What is Man? Sermon for June 11/12, 2017

What is Man?
Psalm 8
Trinity Sunday (Final Sunday)
June 11th/12th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI


There’s a certain pride that comes along with being asked to do something important. Imagine a young student who has been asked to carry a note to the secretary in the school office. Out of everyone in the whole class, the teacher chose that one person for such an important mission. That child holds the note securely, walks confidently down the hallway to the school office, and proudly places the note on the secretary’s desk. And the whole time, the student stands a little taller, head held high, feeling honored and special that they were chosen for such a task. Were you ever the student chosen for that task? Do you still feel proud when asked to do something important by someone you respect?


Or maybe you don’t feel honored in those situations. Maybe you feel terrified. Maybe you look at the task given to you by your boss and, instead of standing taller and walking with your head held high, you shrink back at the thought of what might happen if things go wrong. A young doctor who is responsible to diagnose and treat diseases might be more intimidated than excited by the task at hand. After all, failure could be fatal.  When the boss looks to you to be the one to close the deal with that huge client, you might find yourself worried about messing up more than being honored to be chosen for the job. When we are asked to do important things by people we respect, our response is usually a mixture of pride and fear.


There’s a similar sentiment running through the Psalm we chanted today. I invite you to have the Psalm in front of you.  You’ll notice that Psalm 8 opens with a confession of God’s greatness and grandeur: “O Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth. You have set your glory above the heavens.” The name of God here refers to his reputation, a reputation that the Psalmist says is readily accessible and clearly known all throughout the earth. In fact, the majesty of God is so obvious that he doesn’t need volumes upon volumes of great theological masterpieces to defend him against his accusers. He is defended by those things that seem weakest in the eyes of the world. “Out of the mouths of babes and infants.” It takes nothing more than what infants can babble to defend the glory and majesty of God, for it is readily seen in the handiwork of creation itself, visible to anyone who will take the time to look.


The glory of God is seen in the power of the ocean and the height of the mountains. It is seen in the vastness of the land and in the horizon that’s always out of reach. It is seen in the multitude of the stars. And when the psalmist David looks out and considers the magnitude and scope of God’s creation, he is left to wonder, “Who am I, that the God who did all this would remember me?” “What is man, that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?”


The awe of the psalmist reaches beyond feelings of insignificance. It touches on those emotions of pride and fear that arise when we realize the importance of a task we have been given by someone we respect. As verses five and six of today’s psalm put it: what is man in the midst of this great creation that you are mindful of him? Why should the majestic Lord remember something as insignificant as humanity, whose individual lives are far shorter than the lifespan of the stars and mountains, who are so small that we are like ants on the ocean? Why should God remember us? “And yet,” David says, “you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands, you have put all things under his feet.”  The actual Hebrew word in verse five that is translated as “heavenly beings” is, in fact, the word “Elohim,” which means God. Many translators would render the thought like this: “In the grand scheme of your majestic creation, what is man that you are mindful of him? Yet you have made him only a little lower than God himself. You have crowned him with glory and honor by giving him dominion over the work of your hands. You have put all things under his feet.”


Talk about a momentous task. As we heard from Genesis, God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them. And he said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.” Ever since he completed creation, God has chosen to continue his work in it through people. He works in and through the things of this world, and he has placed humanity in dominion over it. To care for it. To steward it. Talk about intimidating. God regularly places the health, safety, and wellbeing of human beings into the hands of other human beings. He cares for and provides for infants and small children through their parents. He cares for and protects adults through the hands of the police, doctors, and first responders. He places people in charge of governments and private industries to cultivate this world and wisely use the resources available here. He provides for the widow and orphan through the charity of other people. He continues to work in and through this creation by working in and through people. When we look out at all that this world and contemplate all that it is comprised of, we too should ask ourselves, “What is man, that you are mindful of him? Who am I, that you have made me a little lower than God himself? That you call upon me for such a task as this?”


The Gospel reading for today ups the ante even further. On the Mount of Ascension, Jesus looked out over the eleven and said, “It is time for you to leave this place and go back to daily life. And in your daily life, make disciples of all nations by baptizing and teaching them.” So not only has God chosen to work in and through people to continue his work of creation, he has chosen to work in and through people to continue his work of salvation, of calling others to faith, of sustaining the church in this world. Not only has God entrusted the physical health and wellbeing of children to parents, but even their eternal salvation. He could blast his Word from heaven with a bullhorn, he could speak directly into each person’s thoughts and minds the words he wanted that person to know, but instead he has chosen to work through people. He has called his church to proclaim his Word. He has chosen to work through sinful and imperfect people to deliver his holy and perfect Word. That’s incredible! What is man, that you are mindful of him? What is man, that you have given him such a task as this?


The task is overwhelming. The thought intimidating. And left to ourselves, we would surely fail. But our joy is that our Lord has not left us as orphans. In the same breath where Jesus told the eleven to make disciples, he promised that he would be with them always, that he is with all his children always, to the end of the age. That is his promise to you, too. He has given you a task for which you are completely unqualified, but he has promised that he will be with you every step of the way. His power is made perfect in our weakness. That’s why we cling so firmly to his Word, for it is through the Word of God that Christ is present among us. And it is ultimately Christ who is at work through us. The task may be great, but it is his task. It is his work. We are the instruments, he the musician. We are the tools, he the farmer. We are the masks, he the actor. This is his creation, we are just the stewards. This is his church, we are just the stewards. In the face of such a monumental task, find comfort in the reality that our Lord is in control, and he loves you. Find comfort in the promise that he is ruling over all things for your benefit, for the benefit of all his children. And find encouragement to approach each day with the desire to be faithful to the task our Lord has given.


In the four years I have been privileged to serve as a pastor here at St. John, I have been intimidated by the task at hand more than once. I have been humbled that the Lord would entrust a place such as this into my safe keeping, at least in part. There is so much history here. So many people call this place home. I feel blessed for the time I have served here at St. John. I am thankful for the relationships that have formed, the friends that I have made, and the memories I’ll take with me.  I’m humbled by opportunity I have had to bring the Word of God to the people in this place. I’m humbled that our Lord would send such a man as me to do his work in his church. And I find comfort in remembering that this is, indeed, his church. While our Lord may have placed St. John into my care for four years, I never walked alone. No pastor ever does, for while pastors come and go, the Word of God remains forever. When I look out over the fruit of faith I see here at St. John today, I rejoice in Paul’s reminder that Pastor Smith or Pastor Merrill or maybe even Pastor Majeski, Narr, or Weber may have planted, and I may have watered, but it is God who gives growth. The next pastor whom God brings to St. John will continue to serve God’s people here. He will continue to plant. He will continue to water. But never forget that it is God who will provide the growth for this congregation and for her members. It is our Lord’s church, we are just the instruments he uses to accomplish all that he would have done.


It’s incredible, when you think about it. What is man, that God would be mindful of him? What is man, that God would use him to accomplish his heavenly and earthly purposes? What indeed? But the simple truth remains that God has given humanity great and wonderful things to do in his church and in his world. God has given you great and wonderful things to do in your family, in your church, and in your community. No matter who your next pastor may be, God will be faithful. He will provide for you. He will work through you. For you are his children. He has made you just a little lower than the heavenly beings, and he has crowned you with glory and honor.


I pray God’s blessings for each of you and for St. John Church and School as you continue to do God’s work in this place. +INJ+


Living Water – Sermon for Pentecost 2017

Living Water
John 7:37-39
Feast of Pentecost
June 4th/5th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI


It’s hard to overstate the importance of a culture’s holidays.  As Americans, we celebrate Memorial Day because we want to remind ourselves to honor the sacrifice of those who died protecting our freedom. We celebrate Independence Day because we want to remember that the roots of our nation lie in limiting the power the government has over the lives of individual citizens. We celebrate Thanksgiving because we want to remind ourselves to be grateful for the prosperity we enjoy in this land. The holidays we celebrate help us remember what it means to be American. And since we celebrate these holidays from our youth, from long before we can understand their significance, these holidays also play a large role in shaping us into Americans. Our holidays both make us who we are and remind us who we are.


When God established Israel as a chosen people in the Old Testament, he established holidays. Seven, to be exact. Seven feast days that helped give the people of Israel the identity our Lord intended for them. Each feast highlighted a specific characteristic of what God wanted from and for his people. The feast of Passover reminded the people of Israel of their deliverance from Egypt. They were a people who were at one time slaves, but now were free. The feast of Unleavened Bread reminded them that the Promised Land was theirs as a gift from God. Since the land belonged to God, this feast reminded the Israelites that they were expected to live in the land as God described. The feast of Firstfruits was celebrated as the crops were just beginning to produce a harvest, a reminder that just as the land belonged rightfully to God, so also all the fruit of the land belonged to God as was given to Israel as a gift. They were a people who depended on God to provide for their needs. The Feast of Pentecost celebrated the great harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. They were a people who had received both bodily and spiritual blessings from their Heavenly Father, the physical food of the harvest as well as the spiritual food of God’s Word. Rosh Hashanah was the feast that asked God’s blessing over the new year. They were a people who were created and redeemed by God, and so they were reminded by this feast to live each day by the grace of God. Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement, was like a spring cleaning for the Temple. The feast reminded them that they were a sinful people whose holy God lived in their midst by covering their sins with his own holiness.


The Feast of Tabernacles, often called the Feast of Booths, is the seventh celebration. It was a feast of rejoicing and anticipation, a celebration that had one eye on the past and the other on the future. This was a holiday that recalled Israel’s days living in tents in the wilderness, days when the Israelites survived on the gracious manna and quail provided by the mercy of God. For seven days during the Feast of Booths, faithful Israelites would live in temporary shelters they had built from branches collected after the harvest.  For seven days, the people ate, lived, and slept in these temporary booths. They did not work, but spent this time remembering how their ancestors ate bread without working for it. The feast was a week-long celebration of how God provided for the people in the wilderness, which culminated in God’s delivering them into the Promised Land. The feast taught the people to rejoice in the ways God continue to provide for his people in their own day and also to look for the great deliverance that he had promised but had not yet fulfilled.


While some of Israel’s holy days allowed the people to celebrate in whatever village they called home, observing this feast, along with Passover and Pentecost, required a pilgrimage to the Temple. So during the Feast of Booths, the streets of Jerusalem would be especially crowded not only with travelers, but also with the make-shift shelters that the travelers built. But unlike Passover or the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths was not a primarily about repentance. It was not an especially solemn observance; it was a time of great celebration. Think along the lines of Time’s Square on New Year’s Eve. The seven days of the Feast of Booths was like the week between Christmas and New Year when nothing much gets done, culminating by counting down the seconds until the ball drops to ring in the New Year. It was a huge campout filled with exuberant and joyful people living in home-made shelters for a week.


Like the time between Christmas and New Year, each day of the Feast of Booths was a celebration. Each day would see the pilgrim throng march in procession to the Temple and around the altar, singing and rejoicing the whole way. Each day would see a procession of priests march to the Pool of Siloam and fill a pitcher with water to be processed back to the altar and poured out as a drink offering. During this procession, the people would sing Psalms of deliverance. Eventually the Israelites adopted the custom of singing the words of Isaiah chapter 12, words which we still sing today: “With joy will you draw water from the well of salvation, and you will say in that day, “Give thanks to the Lord, call upon his name, make known his deeds among the people. Proclaim that his name is exalted. Shout and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”


During this celebratory parade, the ceremonial water called to mind God’s great promise of deliverance waiting to be revealed with the arrival of the Messiah. The feast reminded the Israelites how their ancestors had lived in anticipation of God delivering them into the Promised Land, and it taught them to live in anticipation of God’s promised Messiah, the one who would deliver a new generation of Israelites. The final day of the feast was especially energetic, the culmination of a week of celebration, reaching its climax as the priest, for the final time, poured out the water from the Pool of Siloam and all the people shouted, “Hosanna! Lord, Save us! Deliver us! Give us water from the well of salvation. Send us the promised Messiah!”


Now, you may be wondering why I would take so much time to describe the Feast of Booths when today is Pentecost. But the Feast of Booths is the setting of today’s Gospel reading. John tells us that on the last day of the feast, the great day, the culmination of a week’s worth of celebrating and praising God for all his gifts while also looking for the fulfillment of his promise to send the Messiah, as the people were either anticipating to the final pouring of water or right after they had seen it, as all the energy and emotion of the crowd was directed toward calling out to God to send his promised Messiah, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone wants this water of life, let him come to me and drink.” Jesus’ message couldn’t be clearer. This feast of celebration that anticipates God’s great deliverance finds its fulfillment in Jesus. He is the living water. He is the great deliverance.


He is the great deliverance for you, too. For like the Israelites of Old, we live in a time of wilderness wandering. Life in the fallen world is often like walking through the barren wilderness. The cares and concerns of this life sap our energy and leave us emotionally and spiritually dehydrated. The threat of disease, the challenges of relationships, the guilt over sins committed, the shame of other people knowing our shortcomings all combine to drain our hope dry. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are often tempted to curse God for our lot in life. And like Israel in the wilderness, all too often we give in to that temptation. Like Israel in the wilderness, we are often tempted to turn our back on God and embrace the sinful philosophies of a dying world. And like Israel in the wilderness, all too often we give in to that temptation. We treat each other according to the standards of the world, speaking out of bitterness and anger instead of out of charity and mercy. We turn our back on the needs of our neighbor, preferring to send a check to some charity so that we can clean our conscience without dirtying our hands. When the opinions and ideas of our world come into conflict with God’s Word, we often tell our Lord to keep silent.


And yet for all our sin and failure, God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. While we live in sin and ingratitude, our Lord continues to cause the rain to fall and food to grow. He continues to provide for all our needs of body and soul. And he continues to call us to look to the great gift of promised deliverance. As the Israelites in the wilderness were called to look to the promised land with hope, so also we are called to look in hope toward our promised rest. The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in your place make that rest a reality. The gift of baptism, the forgiveness of your sins, the body and blood of Jesus given to you at this very altar make that promise yours. Apart from Christ, the wilderness of this world would leave us parched beyond hope, dead from dehydration, a valley of dry bones. But Christ has come. Jesus lives for you. Whoever believes that promise will drink the living water of salvation.


And with but a single drink, you have so much living water that rivers pour forth from you. In our Lord’s Word, we have more than we could ever need, more than we could ever deserve, more than we could ever hope for, more than we could ever contain. The gift of Christ is so abundant that when you have but a single drop of his living water, it is as if you have rivers upon rivers of it. You don’t get just part of Jesus through his Word. You don’t get just part of the Spirit. You get all of it. You get life in abundance. You get faith in abundance. You get immeasurably more than all you could ask or think.


In a way, our life as the people of God today is like our own celebration of the Feast of Booths.  The dwellings and circumstances of this life are temporary shelters made from branches that will one day wither and fade. Through his word, our Lord calls us to rejoice in the gifts he freely gives while we live in this temporary situation. And he calls us to look with anticipation to the deliverance waiting to be revealed when he comes again in glory. Rejoice and anticipate, that’s what this feast is about. That’s what your life is about too.


So even though it may be Pentecost, celebrate the Feast of Booths today. Come to the altar of your Lord and celebrate the waters drawn from the well of salvation. Drink the living water that is Christ himself. In this Sacrament Jesus gives himself to you. He fills you to the point of overflowing with faith, hope, and love to sustain you in the wilderness of this life. Here at this rail, Jesus gives you the gift of the Spirit to sustain your soul, to guard and protect you in the true faith unto life everlasting. And when the time comes, our Lord will fulfill the deliverance promised to you just as he fulfilled the promise of deliverance for the Israelites in the wilderness by leading them into the Promised Land, and just as he fulfilled his promise of deliverance by sending Jesus as the Messiah.


Remember and anticipate: that is the Feast of Booths, and that is our life in Christ.  May our gracious Father in heaven grant us living water all our days of this pilgrimage and deliver us safely into the life to come.