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.

 

+INJ+

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Dealing with Distractions – Sermon for May 14, 2017

Dealing with Distractions
Acts 6:1-9, 7:2a, 51-60
5th Sunday of Easter
May 14, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

Everyone gets distracted. The older you get, the more responsibilities you have, the more likely it is that something will slip through the cracks. Sometimes it’s something small, like scrambling to get out the door on time in the morning and leaving your coffee mug sitting on the table. Other times it’s something more significant, like missing an appointment or deadline because something else comes up unexpectedly.  No one knows this better than moms, who are consistently responsible not only for their own schedule but also for the schedules of their kids and, often, their husband. That’s why it’s good on a day like today to take time out to say thank you to moms for all that they do. But Mother’s Day sentimentality aside, most moms could probably tell you a story about the time they forgot something important for work or home or their child’s school. Most dads could too.

That’s because distraction is a common problem. Many would argue that, as a culture, we have become addicted to distraction. It is now a documented fact that the sound your phone makes when you get a text message or other alert releases dopamine into your brain. Dopamine is a chemical in your brain that drives you to seek rewards and gives you a sense of pleasure when that reward is met. It sharpens your focus and increases goal directed behavior so long as that behavior results in the desired reward. Some researchers suggest that the cultural addiction to smartphones is a result of the dopamine they produce in your brain. For example, dopamine in your brain makes you start looking for something, and when you find that thing, you get a feeling of reward or accomplishment. With smartphones, the dopamine in your brain encourages you to look for the notification: a new text, new email, new mention. With phones, you can have that reward experience almost immediately, which releases more dopamine into your brain so that you seek the reward more and more. Smartphones are especially suited to feed this cycle because dopamine is heightened by anticipation and unpredictability. Subconsciously wondering when your phone will bing next releases dopamine into your brain. Then, when your phone finally bings, the result that your brain was seeking is fulfilled. The behavior is rewarded, and your brain starts the whole cycle over by anticipating the next bing.[1]

When your phone doesn’t bing, you pick it up to see if you missed something. You check it every few minutes just to make sure. And if you didn’t miss something, if there’s no notifications there to reward you, then you post on social media or text someone in an effort to induce a response from your phone. Or you play one more level on that game so that you can hear the sound it makes when you win. Or you look for that one perfect pin on Pinterest that you can save for later. And pretty soon, the dishes aren’t done, the laundry’s not folded, the lawn needs to be mowed, you haven’t made eye contact with your spouse all day, you haven’t spent much time with your kids, you didn’t finish that report for your meeting at work in the morning, and all you can think about is how to get your phone to make that “new message” sound you love so much. We are easily distracted people. And more often than not, we’re so caught up in the distraction and how it makes us feel that we don’t even realize what’s not getting done, what important tasks are slipping through the cracks.

It’s just as easy for us to get distracted in the church. It’s easy for us to get distracted as the children of God. It’s easy for us to let what’s most important slip through the cracks as we chase after other things – some of which are important, some of which are not. It’s a temptation that faces the church as a whole, and a temptation that faces each of us as a child of God.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts tells of a two-fold distraction, temptations that would keep us distracted from the main purpose of the church and the primary work of the children of God. One of the major distractions is the threat of persecution. The Apostle Stephen was violently opposed for preaching the good news of Jesus. When he would not fall silent in the face of his persecutors, he was killed. We often find ourselves living in fear of persecution and we wonder what we would do if such a threat appeared in our lives. We don’t need to limit persecution only to death threats, although there are certainly people around the world for whom that remains a distinct possibility. For us, we live in fear of becoming a social outcast, or of losing friends, maybe even losing family members. We live in fear of how people might negatively respond if we proclaim the Word of God with our lips and with our lives.

The threat of persecution or hardship is a powerful temptation to set aside our identity as God’s children and instead to attempt to blend in with the world around us. And because there’s no shortage of reasons to fear, we can quickly become addicted to the distraction. Like waiting for the phone to buzz, we end up waiting for, even looking for the next threat. We become distracted from the comfort of God’s Word.

When faced with such temptations, we remember Jesus’s words from today’s Gospel reading: “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Often Jesus spoke of His suffering and death, but we tend to forget. Now He says: “I am the Way.” He is the Way to live and to die. Jesus said “Narrow is the Way that leads to Life and few are those who find it.” It is narrow because it is the way of God, following God’s Word, not distracted by the threats of sinful men. How does one quiet a fearful heart in the face of persecution or rejection from the world? By believing in the promise of Jesus. How does one quiet fears about the future? By listening to Jesus who says: “In My Father’s house are many mansions. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to Myself so that where I am also you may be.” And then He adds: “And where I am going you know the Way.” Jesus went the way of sorrows and suffering, the way of the cross, the way of death and resurrection so that we can go the way of peace and everlasting life. Jesus is the Way.[2]

Beyond the fear of persecution, we are also tempted to become distracted from who we are as the children of God by other good and godly activities. It is important for parents to make sure their kids have clean clothes, but that’s not their most important task. Would we applaud parents who were so wrapped up in doing laundry that they neglected to feed their children or take them to the doctor when they had a fever? So also we are likely to get distracted by activities that are in and of themselves good and godly, but that are not our main focus as the children of God.

In today’s reading from Acts, that activity was tending to the needs of widows. The twelve summoned the full number of disciples and said: “It is not right that we should give up preaching the Word of God to serve tables.”[3] There are cautions and reminders in there for all the children of God. Most importantly, there is a reminder of the importance of hearing God’s Word. I’ve often heard it said that the church should focus on deeds, not creeds, that the church should focus on helping the sick and starving, the widows and the orphans, and not on gathering for worship or Bible study. And because such experiences are often more fulfilling than an hour of sitting in church or Bible Study, we become addicted to the distraction. Like waiting for the phone to buzz, we are waiting for the next service trip or charity event, ignoring the simple task of listening to God’s Word while we wait.

But such ideas distract us from our main focus as the children of God. It’s not that such activities or acts of charity and mercy are unimportant. They certainly are. But we must keep the hearing of God’s Word our top priority. We are first and foremost people who hear and confess the truth of God’s Word. We hear and confess the truth of our sin. We hear and confess the truth of our salvation. We listen to him who is the way, the truth and the life, for there is no way other than him. There is no life apart from him. His Word of truth assures us that he is our Good Shepherd, the one who laid down his life that we might overcome death. Living in that promise is what makes us children of God. The acts of kindness and mercy, while important, come after the hearing of God’s Word. It’s like a lamp in your living room. If you want the lamp to light up, you have to plug it in. Once you unplug it, the bulb goes dark. You don’t just plug it in for 30 minutes then unplug it expecting the lamp to go on working all evening. The lamp has to remain plugged in to shine. So also the children of God. We need to be plugged into God’s Word to be the light of the world. We don’t just plug in once or twice a year and expect the light to shine. We stay connected to the source – to the Word of God – and then through us the light of God shines into the darkness.

The world is full of things that would distract us from this reality. Whether it’s the bing of a smartphone or the dozens of other activities and events that would keep us from regular worship and Bible Study, repent of these distractions. Turn your focus back to hearing and learning the Word of God, making regular worship a priority, not fearing soft or hard persecution from the dying world, not prioritizing pious actions over the Sabbath rest of hearing God’s Word, but instead remaining plugged into that Word in order that the Holy Spirit might create saving faith within you.  For with that faith comes the promise of eternal rest, the joy of knowing you are loved by your Father in heaven, and the comfort of knowing that no matter what happens in this life and in this world, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for you. And he will come again to take you unto himself. May the Word of God comfort you with this promise all the days of this life and into the life to come.

[1] Susan Weinschenk Ph.D. “Why We’re All Addicted to Texts, Twitter and Google” Psychology Today Online (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/brain-wise/201209/why-were-all-addicted-texts-twitter-and-google)

[2] The Sermon Notes of Harold Buls. http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/wittenberg/bul/east-03a.html

[3] Acts 6:2

Hearing Our Lord – Sermon for May 7/8, 2017

Hearing Our Lord
John 10:1-10
4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday)
May 7th/8th, 2017
St. John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

The human eye is an incredible creation composed of over 2 million working parts. There has never been a successful eye transplant because the eye is so intricate, connected to the brain by more than 1 million microscopic nerve fibers. But the eye incredible not only because of how precisely and intricately designed it is, but because of the impact it has on us as people. Sight is the primary sense in human beings. Some people estimate that 80% of our memories are determined by what we see, and 80% of what we learn is learned through the eyes. The only organ more complex in the entire body is the brain itself, but over half of the brain is devoted to processing visual stimuli. Vision is the primary sense for the vast majority of human beings – it forms our most basic understanding of the world around us. Of course, the bodies and brains of those who are blind learn to rely on other senses to make up for the lack of vision. But generally speaking, sight is the primary sense in people.

But what about the children of God? What is to be the primary sense for the children of God? Which sense are we to rely upon most for our understanding of the world around us?

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Epistle reading reminds us that we were at one time straying like lost sheep, but we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. The Psalm for today is Psalm 23, one of the most beloved sections in all the Scriptures. The Lord is my shepherd; I am his sheep. The Gospel reading for today records for us words of our Lord that have become known as the Good Shepherd Discourse. The image of shepherd and sheep is one of the consistent images that runs through the entire history of God’s people. It’s a prominent image in the Old Testament. It’s a prominent image in the New Testament. It’s a prominent image in the church today. It’s in our hymnody. It is in our artwork. Here at St. John we have a painting by the elevator depicting Jesus as a shepherd, and we have a stained glass window dedicated to the same idea. Today’s Gospel reading helps us understand a bit more about why this image is a favorite one of our Lord, and why he consistently places it before us. And believe it or not, it has a lot to do with sight.

Today’s Gospel reading from John chapter 10 follows on the heels of an exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees where sight was the main topic. John chapter 9 records for us the account of a man born blind who had his sight restored by Jesus. The man is questioned by the Pharisees, as are his parents, and eventually he is cast out of the synagogue for confessing Jesus as Christ. When Jesus heard that the man had been cast out of the synagogue, he went and found him and said, “For judgment have I come into the world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When the Pharisees heard this, they asked Jesus, “Are we also blind?” To which Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say you see, your guilt remains.” He then immediately launches into the Good Shepherd Discourse, including this discussion about how true sheep hear the voice of their shepherd, relying on their ears, not their eyes.

That’s our call as the children of God: to rely on our ears, not our eyes.

Our eyes will deceive us. Our eyes will fill us with fear. Our eyes will fill us with anxiety and doubt. Our eyes will look out at the world around us and see rising unrest. They will see a polarized political existence in our country. They will see racial tensions. They will see professional baseball players subjected to racial slurs in a Major League Ballpark. They will see tensions rising between those fighting for religious liberty on one side and those fighting for SOGI laws on the other. Our eyes will see flooding in Missouri and Texas. They will see tornados and earthquakes and hurricanes. They will see cancer and disease and death within our own families and church and school. Our eyes will give us every reason to fear.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. For faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ.  Christ our Shepherd invites us to cast all our anxiety on him, for he cares for us. His yoke is easy. His burden is light. He leads us to the still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. He fills our cups overflowing with his mercy. Though the mountains crumble and the earth gives way, the steadfast love of our Lord never ceases. Behold, the Son of God, with whom the Father is well pleased. Listen to him. Don’t let your eyes fill you with fear. Let your ears fill you with peace.

But our eyes are powerful. We’ve learned to rely so much on vision. We’ve trained ourselves that seeing is believing. It is not only fear and anxiety that our sight tempt us to believe more than we believe the promises of God. It is greed and lust. Our eyes see the fruit of the world, and seeing that the fruit looks good for eating, we are tempted to take a bite. Our eyes take in the new car our neighbor drives, the new house our friends purchased, the new phone, the new Apple watch, the new iPad, the new this the new that. Our eyes gluttonously devour all the toys and possessions that are not ours, and our eyes tell us that we deserve more, that we deserve better, that we want what others have.

But our Shepherd beckons us to believe our ears, not our eyes. Our ears hear the voice of our Shepherd saying , “Do not covet.” It those words is more than a command; in those words is a promise of freedom. The one who commits sin is a slave to sin. The one whose eyes are addicted to greed becomes a slave to greed. But if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Free from the worry that comes with discontent and coveting. Free from the temptation that is always hiding in the shadow of those shiny new things. The temptation to cut back giving to God so that we can afford a nicer car or more extravagant vacation. The temptation to neglect quality time with our spouse or children because we are spending so many hours working for a bigger paycheck. The temptation to play with the numbers a little so that the government doesn’t really know how much we make. The growing hatred in our hearts as we look at the possessions of the people around us and, rather than rejoicing in the good gifts our Lord has given someone else, hating them for getting what we want. The temptation to tear down the reputation of another person or to speak ill of them or to sabotage them because we are jealous.

Our Lord’s Word sets us free from all of that when it says, “Do not covet. But receive from the Lord with thanksgiving that which is yours.” Our ears give us the peace of a thankful heart. Our ears hear the Lord’s call to pray, “give us this day our daily bread.” And our ears trust that our Lord will give us such bread, neither giving us so much extra that we think we have no need of our Lord, nor giving us so little that we fall into theft and so dishonor the name of the Lord. Our ears hear that our heavenly Father knows we need food and clothing and shelter, and that he desires to give us these things. Our ears, not our eyes, fill us with such peace.

Our eyes see the pleasures of the world around us. Our eyes lust after the flesh, after the bottle, after the next high or the next thrill. Our ears hear the voice of our Lord calling us back to his fold. These other voices are not the shepherd. They have not entered our lives or our hearts or our minds by the door, but have climbed in by some other means. They come to steal and kill and destroy. To steal our joy and kill our relationships and destroy the life our Lord has designed for us – a life of faith toward him and love toward others. Jesus has come that we might have life, and have it abundantly. Jesus has come, and he speaks. He comes with his Word. He comes to our ears, not our eyes.

He comes in a splash of water on a baby’s forehead. The eye sees tap water. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that by itself that water would be plain water, but because it is combined with God’s Word it is the life-giving water of baptism.  The eye sees bread and wine. The ear hears the Word of God and knows that the crucified and risen Christ himself is present in this meal to bring us forgiveness of sins, life and salvation. It is our ears, not our eyes, to which our Lord makes his appeal. It is through our ears, not our eyes, that our Lord is present among us today.

When a person loses their sense of sight, their body responds by directing some of the parts of the brain that would normally be used to process visual stimuli to process sounds, smells, tastes, and touch instead. That’s partly why people close their eyes when the kiss or when they take a bite of a particularly tasty steak or when they take a long deep breath to absorb the smell of flowers in the springtime. Our other senses are strengthened when sight is taken away. Jesus says that he came into the world so that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind. Those who trust the eyes more than the ears will never see the Lord for who he is. As far as we trust our eyes, the painful and disappointing circumstances of our lives, the temptations and siren songs of the world around us, more than we trust the Word of the Lord in our ears, so far will we miss Jesus for who he truly is.

Repent of idolizing your eyes. Hear the voice of your Shepherd. Learn to recognize the voice of your Shepherd. When you hear the voice of another, do not follow it. Flee. Learn to hear the voice of your Shepherd in the proclamation of his Word, and follow that voice. For he alone is the Good Shepherd. All others are thieves and robbers. Do not listen to them. Hear the voice of your Shepherd calling you to repentance. Hear the voice of your Shepherd promising you forgiveness. Hear the voice of your Shepherd and follow him. For He has come to give you life, and to give it to you abundantly.

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

Mistaken Identity – Sermon for June 7/8, 2015

Mistaken Identity
Luke 16:19-31
First Sunday After Trinity
June 7th/8th, 2015
Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

            The television show Undercover Boss uses hidden identities to create comical, uncomfortable, or heartwarming moments.  If you not familiar with the show, the basic premise is this: a chief executive or owner of a major corporation leaves the corporate 23692407_BG1headquarters works for a week at an entry level position in his or her company. Disguised as an average Joe, the boss spends a work week interacting with entry-level employees and managers, dealing with costumers, and getting a taste of what it’s like working for the company instead of running it.  The goal for the executive is usually that he or she wants to be a better boss or cultivate a healthier working environment by experiencing life in the trenches. As the camera follows the undercover boss, the audience gets to see how he or she is treated by people who think he or she is just the newest hire. Sometimes the boss is treated kindly, other times the boss is harassed or hazed or insulted. At the end of the week the boss calls the other workers to the corporate headquarters and reveals his or her true identity. Often times there are promotions, bonuses, or other rewards for the workers who proved themselves good employees. For those who treated the boss or the job poorly, the result is usually extra training courses, not to mention the public shame and embarrassment of having a nationwide audience see you make a fool of yourself  to your boss.  In this case, the old cliché holds true: You can’t judge a book by its cover. You can’t always tell who someone truly is simply by looking at them. Sometimes that beggar in the marketplace is really the princess in disguise.

Yet we continue to focus on outward appearance, not so much tattoos or hair color or piercings, although those tend to have a far greater influence than your average teen or twenty-something is willing to admit. No, we look at the things of this world. We tend to evaluate our spiritual health and the spiritual health of others based on what we can see physically. But this can often lead to tragic cases of mistaken identity.

Take the words of Jesus we read together a short time ago. There was a rich man who had the best life had to offer. He lived in luxury, wearing the finest clothes, driving the finest cars, drinking the finest wine, eating the finest food. He lacked for nothing. All his desires were met at a moment’s notice. He had the best this life had to offer. And he went to hell. He had nothing in the life to come except the agonizing desire to have his torment relieved by a single drop of water. No, the one who was wealthy for the life to come was Lazarus, the same Lazarus who lived in the street outside the rich man’s estate. He didn’t luke_16_rich_man_and_lazarus1have a home of his own. He had to scavenge through the trash looking for scraps to make up his next meal. His body was cursed with illness, and he was so weakened by disease that he couldn’t even stop the dogs from licking his wounds or gather the strength to shoo them away. I’m sure he stunk to high heaven. He was the kind of person you didn’t want to be in line behind, the kind of person you didn’t want to sit next to on the bus, the kind of person you wanted to avoid at all costs. But he was the one who was truly wealthy, for he was the one who found himself at Abraham’s side in the end. He was the one who found himself in paradise. He was a child of God. Most people, and we have to include ourselves in this if we’re being honest, most people if they met these men on the street would consider the rich man favored by God and Lazarus cursed. But that would be a case of mistaken identity.

How often do we fall victim to mistaken identity, not only in the way that we estimate the value of others, but in the way our world evaluates us! The cultural winds have changed direction in our homeland. The Epistle for today from 1 John reminds us of the importance of love, that our God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God. That all sounds well and good, but at the risk of sounding like an old SNL classic, what is love? According to our world, love seems to demand that you live and let live. Just keep your mouth shut – that’s true love to our world. Christians, whose God is love, Christians,stock-footage-close-up-head-shot-of-a-guy-with-his-mouth-covered-with-duct-tape-and-the-words-don-t-speak-written who love because he first loved us, Christians whose whole existence is tied up in the receiving and living in the love of God are branded as unloving because we take a stand on the truth of God’s Word. Our world doesn’t care about truth. Our world flees from truth like roaches from the light. Our world takes its stand on feelings and experience. Now, it’s true that you can’t control another person’s experiences of joy: you can’t tell another person which color should be their favorite or which genre of movie or music should be their favorite.  But we live in a world that silences any attempt to speak against pretty much any experience at all. We live in a world that believes that just as you can’t say which colors or movies someone ought to like, so also you can’t say which gender a person should have intimate contact with or even which gender they ought to be. It considered unloving to speak as if you know the truth or to claim that someone else is wrong.

But think about the inconsistency here. We get so upset, almost militant, about the dangers of secondhand smoke or other known carcinogens. The truth as discovered by medical studies is trumpeted from the rooftops. Smoking is outlawed in public places, in front of buildings, and any place where if may have adverse effects on bystanders. All this is done out of concern for the bystanders; you might say it’s done out of love. But when Christians try to do the same with moral choices, to speak out about the murder of the unborn, the sexual corruption of our time, the institutionalized greed and self-centeredness of our time, we are branded as the unloving ones. When we speak of the dangers these behaviors pose to the fabric of society or to the souls of its people, when we speak of the dangers of moral actions in the same way we speak of medical dangers, we are villianized. Granted, our words aren’t always as kind and gentle as they could be, and in such cases we must own our mistakes, repent, and change our rhetoric. But even when we do explain everything in the kindest possible way, the message is still rejected. We will continue to be rejected, and with even more fervor in the years to come. We don’t fit the world’s standard of success and tolerance. The rich man in Jesus’s example was decked out in the finest clothes and luxuries of this life while Lazarus remained an outcast. The currency of today is tolerance, is having a mind so open that your brain falls out. The so called love of today demands that each of us sit in our little bubble, keeping entirely to ourselves. It doesn’t matter if you have never done anything hateful or hurtful to someone you disagree with. The very act of disagreeing gets you put outside in the gutter, left scrounging for scraps to survive.  When it comes to the currency of our world, we are indeed beggars, a 21st Century Lazarus.

But take heart, Lazarus.  It is nothing more than a case of mistaken identity.  We may be poor like Lazarus, but like Lazarus, we have something more than the acceptance of this world waiting for us. Something better. Something eternal. Something that far exceeds the fleeting comforts available this side of the grave. Like Lazarus was an outcast in the world of his day, we will increasingly be outcasts in ours. We will be more aggressively marginalized. We will be told more emphatically that our faith ought to be entirely private, that it has no place outside the walls of this building, that our beliefs must be kept to ourselves at all times.  Just look at the way our government now speaks about freedom of worship instead of freedom of religion, as if they were the same thing. But take heart, for our true identity is not found in what this world considers us to be. It is found in Christ and what he has done for us. Our true identity is found in our baptism, in the new creation given to us through water and  the Word. Our true identity is found in the promises of God. The things of this world will pass away. The grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of God stands forever. Our true identity comes from that Word, the strong Word that speaks us righteous.  Like Abraham, trust in the promise of God is credited to us as our righteousness. It may not change our appearance or status in the eyes of an unbelieving world, but it changes our identity before God.

To the world we will still look like Lazarus. Our lives will often look no different than the lives of the world around us. We will still struggle with illness and addiction. We will still struggle with financial hardships and unemployment. We will still struggle with pride and the temptation to self-justification. We will still lose our temper, act on our lust, indulge our greed, and stroke our egos. Apart from the gift of repentance, we are no different from the Dives and Lazarusrich man in today’s reading. Apart from the gift of repentance, we will be the ones begging for a drop of water to relieve our eternal torment. But if anyone is in Christ he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come![1] This new creation is not readily visible to the eyes of the world. In the eyes of the world, we are Lazarus. But so also are we Lazarus in the eyes of the Lord. In the eyes of our Lord our true worth is seen.  Even though we are already God’s children now, what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when Jesus appears again on the last day we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.[2]

The struggle and joy of the Christian life is that it is cruciform, meaning our lives follow the shape of the cross. As we just heard a moment ago from 1 John, as Jesus was so also are we in this world.[3]  Our lives follow the pattern of Jesus.  Jesus encourages us in today’s reading to listen to Moses and the Prophets, to listen to the Word of God, for the Word of God is enough to show us who we truly are and to reveal reality to us. And the word of God is clear: in our lives we will share in the sufferings of Jesus, for in baptism we are united to him.  He is the image of God into which we are being reshaped. When we look at the details of Jesus’ life, we see clearly that things aren’t always what they appear to the human eye.   When the word became flesh, the world did not know him. He came into his own, and his own received him not. He was treated as an outcast. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows. They considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted. He suffered mockery at the hands of sinful men. He was constantly questioned and tested as if the message he brought was not from God. He was stripped and beaten and executed.  But in the resurrection his glory was revealed. That is the same glory that we participate in as we kneel to receive his body and blood, the body and blood of the risen Savior given to us so that we might be joined to that body here in this life and into the life to come.

The world did not see Jesus for who he truly was. They could not, for that takes the eyes of faith. The world cannot see us for who we are in Christ, for that takes the eyes of faith. We have the eyes of faith, so let’s use them. Let us not be mistaken about who we are in Christ or who we are in this world. We are children of paradise. We are the redeemed ones of God. We still live in this world and struggle against sin, death and the devil. But the victory has been won. See that. Believe that. Trust that. For in that promise is our hope. That is the true identity of God’s children. That is who we are in Christ.

[1] 2 Corinthians 5:17

[2] 1 John 3:2

[3] 1 John 4:17

Funeral Sermon for Kathy Hacker

Kathleen Rose Hacker

Funeral Sermon

John 15:1-5

January 10, 2015

Saint John Lutheran Church, Fraser, MI

             Just yesterday I had the opportunity to spend some time with the 7th grade class in our school.  They asked me to come in because they had questions that they wanted the pastor to answer.  It felt a little like going before the firing squad, but I’ve always enjoyed working with kids as they are maturing into young adults, so I didn’t mind.  They asked many wonderful questions, but one in particular sticks out in my mind today.  One boy asked: “What’s heaven going to be like?”  It’s a question that I’ve certainly discussed before as a pastor, and I had some thoughts ready to go.  In the Book of Revelation especially, heaven is discussed in such a way as to call to mind the Garden of Eden.  Other places in Scripture describe heaven as a restoration of creation to what it was before sin corrupted it, when Adam and Eve walked with God in the Garden.

I was struck by that again this week because for those of us here at St. John who knew Kathy, she will always be remembered as someone who loved gardening.  After visiting with her children this past week I know that she was much more than that.  I heard of her dedication as a mother and how she worked tirelessly to raise you in the faith, making sure that you always made it to church, no matter how tired she was, even if that meant she might fall asleep herself during the service.  It was important to her to see you there.  I heard how her strength of faith, even in difficult times, served as a wonderful example for her children and grandchildren.  She was a hard worker, but when she did take time for herself, there was usually sunshine involved, whether that was something special like a family vacation to sunny California when the kids were younger, or the daily desire to simply find a few minutes to lay down out in the sunshine, or, most of all, to spend time in the garden.

It’s the gardening that people here seem to remember most.  I was struck this past week that as news of her death spread through the congregation even the newer members who didn’t yet know her by name knew her as the tiny blonde who was alwaysclx-gift-guide-gardening-de working in the flower beds.  She was active in so much around St. John.  Whenever there was a big event going on around church you were sure to find her in the back helping out without need of recognition.  But it was when the big events were over and the crowds went home that she showed her true colors, coming back here every week to tend to the flowerbeds out front, to clear leaves off the parking lot, to live out her love for gardening.  She never missed; she knew that those flowers needed continuous attention if they were to survive.  So that attention is exactly what she gave.

It is similar care and nurture that gives us hope today.  For Kathy was a child of God, and just as she invested so much time in her plants and gardens, so also our Lord has invested himself in her.  He planted the gift of faith in her when he washed her with the waters of Holy Baptism on July 21, 1944.  But he didn’t just plant that faith and then leave it to tend itself.  He has been cultivating that faith in her ever since.  He has been watering it with the living water of his word of promise.  He has been strengthening her faith through the gift of daily forgiveness.  Just as a flower flourishes when the dead petals and bulbs are removed, so also our Lord, through his gift of forgiveness, removes the sins and guilt that cling to his children so that they may flourish in the sunshine of his love.  That is what he did for Kathy for so many years.  He continually came to her with his word and revealed her need for a savior, and he revealed himself to be that Savior, removing the stain of guilt and shame in order that she might flourish in him.  He carefully and tenderly tended to her as his precious child, for as Jesus himself says, he is the vine and his children like Kathy are the branches, and he tends to those branches so that they bear much fruit.

And Kathy knew it.  Her hope was in the Lord.  She believed Jesus when he said, “I am the vine, you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”  Kathy believed that Jesus was her vine, so she continued to abide in him.  She faithfully came to the services of our Lord’s house to hear the proclamation of his Word.  She faithfully gathered together with other Christians in this place to pray together, to encourage and uplift each other, to sing God’s Word to each other.  She faithfully came to this very altar to receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of her sins.  She knelt at the altar rail as a humble child of God, and here she was united to Jesus himself.  He lives in her.  He who was dead but is now alive lived in her.  He who the tomb could not hold now holds Kathy, so the tomb cannot hold her either.  She remained in the vine, and she bore much fruit.

She is still in that vine, still united to Jesus.  That gives us hope in the midst of john15_5grief, for our Lord is faithful.  There is definitely grief today, for a dear friend, a mom, a grandma is no longer with us.  There is grief, for although her health had been in decline for a while now, when her death came it came swiftly and suddenly.  There is grief because death is not what our Lord intended for Kathy or for any of his creation.  In this world created for life death is the ultimate corruption.  But when the vinedresser saw that his garden had been infested with this deadly disease, he did not abandon it.  He came down into it.  He walked among us as one of us, feeling the pain and grief that we feel, dying the death we deserve so that we might be given the life that is his.  For as many as have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death, united to him in a death like his so that we might also be united to him in a resurrection like his.

In these promises of our Lord we find hope amid the grief.  He has clothed Kathy with the garments of salvation; he has covered her with the robe of his righteousness.  As the earth brings forth sprouts and the garden causes what is sown in it to sprout up, our Lord planted and nurtured the gift of faith in Kathy so that it sprouted up and flourished.  That gift has now been harvested, for Kathy has been taken out of the great tribulation of this world and brought into the joy of paradise, in that place where she is before the throne of God night and day, where she hungers no more, neither thirsts anymore; the scorching heat of the sun does not exhaust her, for the Lamb of God on the throne is her shepherd.  He is guiding her to springs of living water, and he is personally wiping away every tear from her eyes.

Our hope is found in these promises that our Lord made to Kathy – and to all his children.  In the midst of heartache and grief, don’t forget that these are our promises too.  church_easter_2007-139-web.gifOur hope is found in the promise that all who die in the faith will be reunited in paradise.  This hope leads to our prayer that our Lord would tend to our faith as intentionally has he tended to Kathy’s, as carefully as she tended to the gardens she loved so much.  Our prayer is that our Lord would continue to water our faith with the living water of his word, that he would feed it with the heavenly food of his own body and blood, so that when our last hour comes we might experience the joy of deliverance.  So Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the Lord there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption.  And he will redeem his people from all their iniquities.  Thanks be to God that he has fulfilled this promise for Kathy.  May he would fulfill it for us too.

Confidence in the Storm – His Time Radio Homily

Confidence in the Storm

Acts 27:27-44

His Time Radio Homily

August 4, 2014

 quote-Mark-Twain-to-succeed-in-life-you-need-two-100473Author Mark Twain once quipped: “To succeed in this life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”  Anyone who has witnessed a toddler fearlessly leaping into a swimming pool with no clue as to what will happen if there is no one there to catch them understands where Twain is coming from.  There is a certain confidence that one might have when he or she is clueless about the consequences.  But this confidence pales in comparison to the confidence that fills your soul when you are absolutely certain of the outcome.  Scary movies are not as scary the second time around when you already know how they end.

Such is the confidence that Paul had in the midst of a terrible storm at sea.  The waves crashed against the boat.  The rain fell so violently that hardened sailors were praying for morning.  Fearful that they might be crushed against the rocks, the soldiers sought to escape by using the ships lifeboats, desperate for any hope of reaching shore.  They were convinced that their ship was a lost cause.  In the midst of the panic, there sat the Apostle Paul, urging them to eat something.  What gave Paul such tremendous confidence in the face of petrifying conditions?

He knew the outcome.  He knew how that story would end.

Paul-shipwreck_1349-361You see, Paul had been visited by an angel, a messenger sent from God, who told Paul, “Do not be afraid, you must stand before Caesar.”[1]  Paul knew that he would survive the storm, for he had been told as much by God.  Paul knew that the soldiers, sailors, and other prisoners on the ship, 276 people in all, would survive the storm, for he had been told as much by God.  Paul had the confidence not of being oblivious to possible dangers, but the confidence of knowing that no matter what dangers reared their ugly heads, he and his travelling companions would survive the journey, for he had the promise of God.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we too have the promise of God.  We too have the confidence that comes only from knowing how the story ends.  As Paul himself wrote in Romans, the sufferings of this life are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed to us at the end of the journey.[2]  So often our lives are laid siege by fear and doubt and uncertainty.  A disease threatens our lives or the lives of loved ones.  A job loss ushers in the uncertainty as to where we will come up with the money to meet our bills.  The loneliness of a broken relationship or a relationship that never materialized fills us with uncertainty about the future.

In such moments we, like Paul, are called to put away our fear and remember the promise of our Lord.  No matter what hardship this life throws at us, we have the promise of salvation through the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have the hope of deliverance given to us personally through the cleansing water of baptism, a hope that is strengthened and nourished as we feast on our Lord’s Supper.  And while the knowledge of this promise doesn’t take the problems away or make our lives smooth sailing, it does give us the confidence to sit and eat in the midst of the storms.

We, like Paul, know how to handle whatever this life throws at us.  We know how to be brought low and we know how to abound.  We know the secret of being content in any circumstance, be it good or bad.  We know the secret of facing plenty or hunger, abundance or need, sickness or health.  We can handle anything through Christ who gives us strength,[3] for we know that we do not handle it alone.

We have the promise of God that he will see us through.  He will provide comfort for us in the promises of his word.  He will provide for our needs in the fellowship of his church.  He will not abandon us to the rocks and waves.  So the next time you find yourself terrorized by one of life’s storms looming on the horizon, or by the crashing of the waves as they threaten to overwhelm you, fear not.  Take heart.  Don’t let Satan drive you to despair.  You are a baptized child of God – you will make it safely to your heavenly home.

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[1] Acts 27:24

[2] Romans 8:18

[3] Philippians 4:11-13