The End of All Is Near (Easter 7)


The End Of All Is Near

What if the last day were today? That question makes you think, doesn’t it? Would you take a different course of action? Would you take the day off from work? Martin Luther was once asked that question, “what would you do if today was your last day?” He said that he’d go out and plant a tree. You see, the point he was making was that if today were our last day, we don’t need to go out and perform some amazing, over-the-top, dramatic act. No, instead, we live our last day the same as all the rest: trusting that God has all the details of the universe in his safe hands. Last Thursday was Jesus’ Ascension. He is with his Father preparing a place for each of us. All the signs and all the prophecies are fulfilled. He could come back for Judgment day at any time. And so God’s word says to us: “The end of all things is near.” (1 Peter 4:7 NIV11-GKE) And what follows then after this is the answer to the question how should we live our lives if the end of all is near? So Peter answers our question: 7 Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. 8 Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. 9 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (1 Peter 4:7–9 NIV11-GKE)

The end of all is near. So then, what should we do? Do we finish off a bucket list? Do we make a mark in the world so that our name will be remembered after us? Peter’s words are so clear and simple: love each other. Now, in these words, first we need to define our terms. I make it a point to not say in my sermons, “the Greek word here is this.” But here is the exception. If ever there’s a word worth memorizing, it’s this one. The word is “agápe.”1 This is the sort of love that looks for and does what is best for its object. You think of the love a mom has for her tiny toddler. Out of love for the child, she’ll pick the child up and play games with her and snuggle with her. But also, out of love for her, when that little toddler thinks it’s fun to pull the cat’s tail, that mom will say, “no!” And that might hurt the little toddler’s feelings. But it is what is best.

That’s the invitation that God’s word gives to us. Jesus has ascended. He could come back at any time. The end of all is near. So Peter invites us to love each other, doing for others what is best for them. But what’s the problem? Each of us has a sinful nature that does not want to do what is best for the other person. Instead, we want to do what is best for ourselves. I can speak to this. For there are days I spend my days listening to people in my church. And I get home. It’s been a long day for my wife or my girls. And all they want to do is have me listen to them—that’s it. But, all my listening energy is already used up. So, I look at them, pretending to listen.

How, then? How do I show this sort of love to others? It starts when we see how much Jesus loved us. It starts there on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It starts when we see a sea of sins covered by Jesus’ love for us. Years ago I worked at a summer camp. And there at that camp I got to see teenagers interacting with other teenagers. I remember seeing a young man go over to a pretty young girl by the beach. And he wanted to strike up a conversation with her. So what did he do? He made fun of her. Because that worked out fine with all of his guy friends. It didn’t work out well with her. What he did was not very loving at all. So also, I remember a young woman. She had eaten her meal and she was still hungry. She went to her counselor and asked if she could have some more food. And there was a kind, generous young man at that table. Even though he was very hungry, he offered to give her his french fries—his cherished french fries. She got this disgusted look on her face and said, “Yuck, that has your germs all over it.” That was not the most loving way of handling the situation.

I remember those events so many years ago for one simple reason: I remembered myself in them. I remembered the times in my teens when, without thinking and without caring I said words I could not take back. And I remember how my Savior was there to forgive those sins day by day. How patient he was with me! How unwavering and unswerving his love was for me! And it is that love toward me that moved me to be there for those teenagers at camp, to reach out toward them with the same love that Jesus showed toward me.

So, Peter tells us that the end of all is near. And if today were your last day, there would be no better way of spending your day than loving others. But as these words travel on, Peter gives us another invitation: 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10–11 NIV11-GKE)

The end of all is near. We have the invitation to love others. But here in these word we also then have the invitation to serve others. In a gracious, undeserved way God has given to each of us at least a gift.2 And many of us, if we looked at our lives and our abilities, we could find many examples of gifts God has given to us. And since the end of all is near, how does God invite us to live? He invites us to use those gifts to serve others. What does that look like? It’s the older brother helping the younger sister with the homework. It’s the daughter putting away the dishes in the dishwasher. It’s you picking up the garbage that blew over onto your neighbor’s lawn. This kind of an interesting picture, isn’t it? The end of all is near? Where’s the bucket list? Where’s the mountain to climb or the ocean to plummet down into? Notice what the wise and sober action to take is: loving others.

But, my dear friends there are traps that we can fall into as we serve others. First, we can envy the gifts of others, wishing,
“if only I had that gift, not the gift God gave me.” Second, we can serve in such a way that we need need thanks when we serve others. Jesus says: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16 NIV11-GKE) Notice how Jesus speaks. He does not say, “glorify you”; instead, he says, “glorify your Father in heaven.”

These are the traps we can fall into. And when we do, these are sins we repent of. And gently and unfailingly, our Savior, Jesus forgives our sins. And he sends us our once again to thank him by serving others. And that, right there, is an amazing thought. Our Triune God made all and owns it all. What good act could I perform that would get his attention and make him pleased with me? The answer to that is found first in your forgiveness. God does not see you as one who needs to earn his attention and devotion. No, you already have it. Sunday after Sunday you say, “Our Father” not so that you might wear him down into being your dear Father in heaven. No you say those words as baptized children of God who already have his attention and devotion. And second, if we ask the question, “what would God be pleased with,” we do not need to look to the sky above or the lakes below. All we need to do is open our bibles. For yes, it’s true that we look to the 10 commandments to show us our sin. But to our new person inside of us they are a different tool entirely. If we want to thank our Lord and praise him—If we want to know kind of service the Lord cherishes and rejoices in, then children listen to your parents, Parents love your children, help others protect and care for their bodies, take care of the property of others, defend the reputation of others. The end of all is near. How then will you live? There is no need to climb the highest mountains or plumb the lowest depths. There isn’t even any need for a bucket list. The wise, sober way of living, knowing that today could very well be our last, is to reach out and love others and to serve others. What do we say to all of this? Peter’s final words are a beautiful way of saying , “amen:” “To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:11 NIV11-GKE)

1ⲁⲅⲁⲡⲏⲛ” (1 Peter 4:8 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲭⲁⲣⲓⲥⲙⲁ” (1 Peter 4:10 GNT-ALEX)

The Christian Funeral of Arthur Magnant


Precious Lord, Take My Hand

Sometimes you need someone to take you by the hand. A year ago, when I first met Art, I remember sharing God’s word with him for the first time. And after we confessed our sins, walked through a devotion in God’s word and prayed, we got to the Lord’s Supper part. And I was faced with a small dillema: How do you communicate with someone who is hard of hearing and is also blind? You take him by the hand. And that’s what I did. I took his hand and shaped it so that he was holding out his hand. Then I placed Jesus’ body along with that bread in Art’s hand. And I stretched out his arm and then placed the chalice in Art’s hand. Art needed someone to take him by the hand in his every day life. But far more than me taking Art by the hand, the Lord was the one who really took Art by the hand. And we see that in the words that Art would want us for focus in on this morning. For, in Psalm 84, God’s word tells us: 1 How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! 2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. 3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. 4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.” (Psalms 84:1–4 NIV11-GKE)

Notice what these words are saying to us. Art needed someone to take him by the hand and lead him home. And this is a very important fact to speak about because this world was not his home. You see, long ago, there were only two people on the world, Adam and Eve. And in a very real sense, this world was their home because they were at home here. But what happened? They rebelled against the good and gracious God who created them. And when they did this, they started sinning against each other just as they sinned against God. And the gifts that were meant to last on this world didn’t last. And eventually, as the Lord promised, they died because of their sin, and they returned to the dust that they were made from.

And the same is true for Art. Month after month, I would visit him and we would confess the fact that we were sinners. And because of this, even though he had a home—and in the earlier years, it was even a home that he buit with his own hands, nevertheless, even though he had a home, he was never at home there for one simple reason: It didn’t last. Eventually, Art’s eyes and ears failed. And so it didn’t matter where Art lived, no place on this earth would really, truly be home because no place would take away his sin and not place would actually last.

So the Lord took him by the hand to lead him to see that this earth wasn’t his real, lasting home. Instead, there was a better, lasting home prepared for him. Jesus is the one who prepared this home for him. Jesus prepared this home for him by dying to pay for all of Art’s sins. Jesus prepared his home for him in heaven by rising from the dead, proving that all of Art’s sins were paid for and forgiven.

But that’s not all the the Lord did for Art. Our gracious God also gave him faith to know our Triune God and then cry out for this new home. And God’s word speaks about that this morning. Birds have a home. But we don’t. For home for us is with Jesus in heaven. And the psalmist here “cries out” to see and be with the living God. The word there for “cry out” is not crying out in desperation. Instead, it’s crying out in joy.1 (Psalms 84:3 BHS-T)}} This is the sort of cry when the Packers win a game, not the cry when they lose a game. It’s a cry of confidence and joy.

The Lord took Art by the hand and took him home because he knew that Art’s soul needed a home that would last. But in the words that follow, there’s another way in which the Lord took Art by the hand: 10 Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless.” (Psalms 84:10–11 NIV11-GKE)

What color are these flowers? These flowers are yellow. That was Art’s favorite color. And why is yellow such a good color? It’s like the sun. Notice how here in God’s word, we learn that the Lord is a sun and a shield for believers. Now, you could go in a lot of different directions with that thought. In what way is the Lord a sun? Just as the sun shines and gives light and warmth and does not hold back its gifts, so also, the Lord does not hold back his gifts. The Lord gives his gifts everyday.

I mention this fact because, in the days to follow, it might be tempting to conclude that God did withhold good gifts from Art. For the Lord took away his home in “Hodag” country. He took away his hearing. He took away his sight. But look at what the Lord gave him. He gave him friends. He gave him a loving family. He gave him a loving wife. And most of all he gave him forgiveness in God’s word every day. So the Lord did not withhold any good gift from him.

And this too was a fact I had to remind Art of. Every month I’d stop over and share God’s word with him and give him the Lord’s supper. And there were times when I’d ask him how things were going. And with that grumpy face, he’d say to me, “Look at me. I can’t see. I can’t hear. I can’t do anything. How do you think I’m doing?” And then I had the privilege of teaching him and reminding him that he is not alone. The bible is filled with so many examples of people who had hard lives, but their hearts still cried out in joy to the Lord. For they knew the Lord was with them, taking them by the hand, everyday. And after those devotions I would give him the Lord’s Supper. And as we closed our worship, every time he would look up to me and with such sincere joy, he would say, “thank you pastor.” And I admit, there were times when, after I said, “good bye,” I stayed there at his door looking at him. And it was so wonderful to see the sad and grumpy face replaced with contentment and joy. Why? He was contented and full of joy because the Lord didn’t just take him by the hand on his last day. The Lord took him by the hand every day.

So where does this leave us this morning? The Lord took Art by the hand and lead him home to heaven, safe at last, troubles past. But we aren’t home yet, are we? Let all us, friends and family of Art, cherish God’s word like Art did. Let us hear it and study it in church. Let us read it at home. Let us do this so that we would never stop yearning for and crying for our perfect lasting home of heaven. And let us do so, so that we see in our Lord taking us by the hand every day, just as Art did. Amen.

1 ”יְ֝רַנְּנ֗וּ“

How Do I Get Past The Past? (Easter 6)


How Can I Get Past The Past?

There are some events you don’t forget. Years ago, when I was a child, even though my Dad told me not to, I touched an electric fence. If I had to go back and use one word to describe what it was like to touch an electric fence, the word that would fit the best is: trauma. Now, notice, I did not say the word, “drama.” That event was dramatic. It was dramatic to hear me shout in pain and see me sit on the ground. But that’s not the word. The word is: trauma. Trauma is this immense wounding that is done to your body and soul. And it’s such a catastrophic wounding that you can’t really grasp how much it affected you. But even worse than that, for months afterwards, whenever I was riding my bike and saw a fence out of the corner of my eye, I instinctively jerked my bike away from that side of the road. In my own way, I was not able to get past the past. All of that I mention this morning so that you would realize that, if I went through a little trauma this morning, the people we meet in God’s word here in Jeremiah 29 went through so very much more trauma than I did. In Jeremiah 29, in verse 4, we read: “This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:” (Jeremiah 29:4 NIV11-GKE)

In 586 B.C. Jerusalem was conquered by the Babylonians. There were many people who were killed. There were many who saw their loved ones killed. They were enslaved. They were deported from their own land and exiled to a land full of godless pagans. There is no other word for what they experienced than trauma. And as we begin these words, in a very real way, they were not able to get past their past.

What God’s word brings to focus in our eyes is that there were believers in the the Old Testament who were traumatized. And the same is true today. There are members of our churches—even our own congregation, who have been traumatized. Terrors and tragedies that should never happen to anyone, happened to them. And they, just like these believers in the Old Testament, out of such pain, ask a very real question: “how can I get past the past?”

There are believers who are traumatized, who are in our churches. And the very real temptation we face today is to not realize and recognize that there are people in our churches that are dealing with trauma and the effects of trauma in their every day lives. There is this temptation to not talk about trauma at all. I face this temptation. I read this part of history and think to myself: “it would be so much easier to just pretend it didn’t exist.’” It’s embarrassing to talk about trauma. And after all, won’t I drive away visitors and guests if I share these parts of God’s word?

The truth, however, is that I’m not fooling anyone. There are people who have been traumatized in our churches. You’re not fooling them. And you’re also not fooling guests to our church. The people who visit our church know that there is trauma out there in the world. And many of them know this because they have faced it in their own lives. And so, there are believers that are in our churches that live with trauma. But the Lord has more to say to us: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” 8 Yes, this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Do not let the prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen to the dreams you encourage them to have. 9 They are prophesying lies to you in my name. I have not sent them,” declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:5–9 NIV11-GKE)

There are those who have been traumatized who are in the church. But notice the point here that the Lord makes. There are also those who have been traumatized by the church. So here’s the situation in the 500’s B.C. They are slaves and exiles in Babylon. They want to be back in Jerusalem. They don’t want to hear the tough truths. So, to fill the void, there were false prophets, dreamers, and diviners who committed two horrible sins: first, they refused to tell these Old Testament believers the tough truths that the Lord was speaking to them. Second, Instead of speaking God’s truth, they told the people that their own dreams were what God planned and intended to do. For, when trauma strikes, it’s always so easy to not face it and dream it away.

And the same is true today. It’s not just true that there are believers who have been traumatized who are in the church. There are also people who have been traumatized by the church. And it happens in the same two stages. The first way is that churches avoid the tough truths in the bible. And the second way is that they tell the people that their own dreams have to be God’s will. In fact, if you were to do a google search for these words here in Jeremiah, you could find an amazing amount of sermons that will preach to you that if you plan it, God has to prosper it.

There was a man who grew up in the church. But he never heard the tough truths of scripture. And so, on one Easter after another he heard that Jesus was victorious. But he never heard what Jesus was actually victorious over. He ended up living with his girlfriend outside of marriage. They had a child. But she refused to marry him. And she kept the child away from him. He went back to his pastor in the church he grew up in and told him, “why didn’t you tell me that adultery was a sin?’” Sad to say, just like in Jeremiah’s time, there are those who are traumatized by the church because the pastors in the church sidestep the tough truths of scripture. So my dear friends in Christ, what does the Lord do with all of this? What will he do for those who are traumatized who are in the church and those who are traumatized by the church?: 10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”” (Jeremiah 29:10–14 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord promises. He promises to give these traumatized people both a real hope and a real future. That hope starts in Babylon and leads all the way to the empty grave on Easter Sunday. For the Lord promised that there would be a Savior and Messiah born in the promised land. That Messiah was born. He lived for us. He died for us. He rose for us. And that fact gives hope. It preached to them that out of the trauma they faced the temptation to dream away the pain instead of facing it. And the Lord forgave that sin. But even more, he comforted them in their pain. That is a real hope.

The Lord promises a real hope. But he also promises a real future. When I read these words in Jeremiah, I can’t help but think of the man who wrote two of our hymns this morning. His name is Paul Gerhardt. He was a man who was a pastor during a time of war and plague. He buried maybe as much as half of his congregation within a few short years. Four of his children died. Then his wife died. Then, he was kicked out of his church because he was willing to teach the tough truths of God’s word. And finally, we are told, he ended his years ministering to a “cold an unsympathetic people.” And yet, he could write and sing hymns like the one we just sang, full of confidence, hope and joy. He could do this because he knew he had a God who forgave his past and promised him a future. And the Lord dealt with his trauma day by day until he finally brought him home to heaven.

Yes, there are those who are traumatized in our churches. And there are those who might have even been traumatized by our chuches sometimes. And that drives us to say, “how can I get past the past?” What great promises our Lord speaks to us, just as he spoke to his people of old! He promises us a real hope in sins forgiven. And he promises us a real future, so that whether our lives have small bumps along the way or instead, have terrible tragedies—like those in Jeremiah’s time; like Paul Gerhardt, we find strength, comfort, and peace in knowing our Lord Jesus is in control of all of time and all the events in it. And that’s how he helps us get past the past. Amen.

God’s Word Is A Gift (Easter 5)


God’s Word Is A Gift

Where did you get that from? Years ago I was visiting one of the members of my church in her home. I would go there month after month and give her the Lord’s Supper because she had lost her balance and couldn’t drive to church anymore. And as we were sitting in the living room I saw a belt buckle on the shelf. So I got up and went over to it. The belt buckle had a guy with a bolo-tie and an outstretched arm. And holding onto his arm was a woman in dress that poofed-out at the bottom. And when I saw the belt-buckle I asked the woman, “where did you get that from?” And her face lit up and she she smiled and said, “Oh, they gave that to my husband as a gift for all the years he and I square-danced.” For her, that gift brought her so much joy because she remembered. She remembered what the gift was for and where it was from. In the words that we look at this morning, in the book of James, God invites us to ask that same questions about the gifts we have in our lives: where did they come from? In James 1, we read: 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:16–17 NIV11-GKE)

That kind woman was thankful for that belt-buckle because she remembered where she got it from. She could remember the good and true friends that she had at that dance hall and the gift they gave her husband and her. But the gifts that are real and true and the ones that are complete and perfect—those are from above. They are from our Gracious God above. And those gifts last forever. And then, in the words that follow James highlights one of those perfect and complete gifts: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:18 NIV11-GKE)

A belt-buckle is a good gift. But a much better gift is rebirth. This word is a theological word. So it’s good for us to spend some time defining and describing what James means here. When we came into this world on the inside we were dead. There was no spiritual life in us. We did not know who God was. And the very little we did know about God, we hated. But then what happened? God made us “born again.” He gave us rebirth. He gave us faith, trust and confidence in him so that we now know who our Triune God is and trust in him.

And notice then how this rebirth came about. Because we were dead spiritually we were not able to choose him. Instead, he is the one who chose us. We were so helpless that he is the one who had to breathe life into our lifeless corpse and make us Christians.

But my dear friends in Christ, what was the tool that God used to give us faith and rebirth? The “word of truth” was what God used. Somewhere at some point in our past God’s word came to us. And it performed a miracle. For some of us it happened when we were tiny when God’s word was combined with water in baptism and he gave us rebirth in those waters of baptism. For others it was God’s word by itself preached and taught to us. That’s what God used to give us rebirth.

These words move us to stand back with awe and appreciation. For God performs miracles with his word. He takes lifeless and breathless corpses of people and breathes life into them with his powerful word. He chooses them and gives them faith through his word. And this too is part of the preaching of Easter. When Jesus rose from the dead he put the entire future of his church not in the power of seeing his resurrected body face-to-face. Instead, he sent them out to preach and teach God’s word. For God’s word had and still has the power to give rebirth and create faith.

All of this is true. But what’s that problem we face in our every day lives? God’s word is an amazing gift. But very often our words are the opposite of a gift. James tells us: 19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” (James 1:19–20 NIV11-GKE)

What should our lives look like? James tells us. We should be quick to listen, slow to speak, and even slower to wrath. But so very often the opposite is true, isn’t it? And as your pastor, I can speak with experience about this. A pastor is called to speak. He has to use words all the time. But the problem is that the old proverb is true: “When words are many, sin is not absent” (Proverbs 10:19 NIV). The more one speaks, the more potential there is to mis-speak. It is so difficult to listen. It is so difficult to be slow to speak and then pour out wrath. And that’s why the words which follow are so important: “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21 NIV11-GKE)

God’s word is a gift. It’s a gift that gives rebirth. But it’s also a gift that gives rescue. God’s word saves us and rescues us. This is such an important gift and truth to have sink deep into our hearts. Each of us needs to recognize that there are times that I am not quick to listen. Instead, I am way too quick to speak and way to quick to pour out wrath. But God gives us rescue in the gift of his word.

My dear friends, how do you look at God’s word? For so many years I recognized that this collection of books was God speaking to me. But it took years of study and schooling to recognize that it also is a gift that does something in me and for me. As James says here: It saves us. For Jesus died there on the cross. And Jesus rose out of an empty tomb. But neither of those is actually what delivers that forgiveness to us. I need forgiveness for the time my words were the opposite of a gift. And the tool that God uses to deliver that forgiveness is his word.

God’s word is a gift. It’s a gift that gives rebirth. But it’s also a gift that gives rescue. And when we begin to realize this it completely changes how we treat God’s word. For example, who do you suppose we have a three readings from the bible every week? When I was in high school I would have answered, “because there’s a lot in the bible that God wants us to remember.’” And that’s true. But there’s more of a gift there. God’s word is a gift that gives rebirth and rescue. The reason we read it three times in our churches Sunday after Sunday is that God’s word is able to perform this miracle of creating faith in people’s hearts just as he has done in our own. Why do we read it three times every Sunday and even have a sermon based on it? We do this because it is able to rescue us. It is able to deliver forgiveness to us. When God’s word is read, heard and studied, there are miracles. They are not miracles that you happen for your eyes to see. Instead, they are miracles that the faith that God gave you embraces.

God’s word is a gift. It is a gift that gives rebirth. It is a gift that gives rescue. Since this is true, let us treat it that way. Let us treasure the time we have in worship here hearing God’s word. Let us treasure the time we have in bible study class studying God’s word. Let us treasure the time we have at home reading it and praying to our God based on it. For God’s word gives rebirth and rescue. Amen.

The Lord Is My Shepherd (Easter 4—Good Shepherd Sunday)

Good Shepherd

The Lord Is My Shepherd

If it weren’t so tragic, it might be humorous. In our gospel this morning Jesus tells us of shepherds who were really not good shepherds at all. When the wolf comes, what do the shepherds do? Do they stay and stand against the wolf? No, they run. It’s the sort of picture that you find in comedy movies and cartoons. And it would be funny if it weren’t so tragic. In God’s word this morning, in Psalm 23, King David tells us how the Lord is the opposite of that. He is good, kind, faithful and reliable. In the opening words of Psalm 23, we read: 0 A psalm of David. 1 The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” (Psalms 23:0–1 NIV11-GKE)

Who is our shepherd? Is our shepherd and incompetent hired-hand? No, instead, our shepherd is the Lord. And David gives us much food to chew on in that statement. The Lord is our shepherd. And because he is our shepherd, there is this natural and necessary result that follows: We lack nothing. Since the Lord is our shepherd, we lack nothing. And to drive this point home, David gives us a picture to anchor that point to: “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,” (Psalms 23:2 NIV11-GKE)

Notice the picture that David gives us. The shepherd leads the sheep down by the river where there is grass by the side of the river. And what happens? They are so calm, so at peace, that they lie down and rest there. But what do they not do? They do not eat. I grew up with sheep. And I can tell you that when we lead the sheep from one area to another area, they would stop eating and then, when we got to the other area, what would they start doing again? They would begin grazing yet again. Here the picture is that of sheep who are so at ease and so content, they don’t even bother to eat. They just rest beside the beautiful waters. The Lord is their shepherd. And so, they lack nothing.

And that picture drives us to ask ourselves a question: why don’t we act like that? We know that the Lord is our Shepherd. So why is it that we don’t have that peace and calmness that David speaks about here? You can see this in how different generations treat money. I have met more than one person who grew up in the depression era. They grew up in fear, wondering where their next meal would come from. So when they grew up, what did they do? They saved. And they did not throw out. And, when they died, you’d find cupbords and closets full of Reynold’s wrap. And yet, I’ve spoken to people in the generation younger than mine who are in the opposite category. When it comes to money, instead of saving it, they make it a point to spend it. Why? They are the generation that grew up and bought homes in the mid-2000’s. And in those years they found out that the money you put in homes can fall away and the money we put into Social Security can fly away. And so, instead of saving, they started spending. And in both of these groups, we ask a simple, but important question: why did they do this? The answer is not out there. The answer is in here—in our hearts. Each of us has a sinful nature that refuses to trust that the Lord is our Shepherd, and because he is our Shepherd we will lack nothing. So what does the Lord do with our untrusting hearts? We read: “he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalms 23:3 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord guides us in paths of righteousness. Righteousness the word for perfection and holiness. And here in this Easter season we have every reason to speak about this righteousness. For there on the cross on Good Friday our hearts that want to save too much or spend too much are covered by Jesus’ righteousness. When we were unwilling and unable to depend on our Lord, Jesus depended on his Father completely in our place.

And that fact fills us with peace and contentment. For faithless and careless shepherds are not over us. Instead, the \textsc{Lord is our shepherd}. And because of that we lack nothing. But these words continue: “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (Psalms 23:4 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord is my shepherd. Because of this I will lack nothing. But notice the point that David makes in these words. Because the Lord is my shepherd, I will also fear nothing. There are consequences to sin. As we read in the New Testament: “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NIV11-GKE). And David preaches to us an amazing truth. Because the Lord is our Shepherd, we do not need to fear death. That consequence of our sin is paid for and dealt with. But notice where David goes to in these words after this: 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalms 23:5–6 NIV11-GKE)

David makes the clear and important point that God’s goodness and kindness will be with us all the days of our life—not just on the day of our death. And that is the amazing fact that David preaches to us during this Easter time. Jesus rose from the dead. If he dealt with that consequence of our sin, won’t he then be there to deal with the consequences of our sin, as David says here, “all the days of our life?”

And so, for example, the Christian young man, completely underestimates how much time it would take to study for a test. It’s 2 in the morning and he still is not ready for the test the next morning. So, he takes the tragic step of deciding to cheat on the test. The next morning he gets caught. Who will be there to help him with the consequence of that sin—not on his last day, when he dies—but on that day that he cheats? Who will be there for the young woman who is not invited to a party along with all the rest of her friends. And so, she spreads a horrible rumor about the other girl who didn’t invite her to the party—and then gets caught? When she sees her sin and repents, who will save her from the consequence of that sin? Yes, Jesus will rescue these Christians from the consequence of sin on their last day—death itself. But who will save them from the consequence of their sin today? Who will save them from their well-earned status of “cheater” and “gossiper?”

What would you say to the young Christian who might cheat or gossip? What do you say to them after they have confessed their sin? What does David say? David says, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I will fear nothing.” And David knew what it was to live with the consequences of his own sin. There was that time in his own life when he had idle hands and wandering eyes, when he committed adultery with Bathsheba. But he confessed his sin. And not only did the Lord deal with his sin by forgiving it, but he also dealt with the consequence of his sin by dealing with it. It might sound strange. But in the years after that sin David was closer to the Lord rather than farther away. For he could see how the Lord not only forgave his sin, but also dealt with the consequence of his sin and used it for good to discipline him and strengthen his faith.

The Lord is David’s shepherd. And If you were to speak to the cheating and gossiping teenager who came to you in repentance to ask for forgiveness, that is what you will say to that person. You will teach them to say, “The Lord is my shepherd; I will fear nothing.” And in your soul and in your heart you know how true these words are. For the Lord is your shepherd. How many times in your own life has the Lord not only forgiven your sin, but then also, kindly and graciously, dealt with the consequence of your sin.

It might be amusing when the wolf comes and the hired-hand runs away. But in our own lives, the very thought can be terrifying. How thankful we are that each of us can say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Because of this, I lack nothing. Because of this I fear nothing. Amen.

I Will See You Again (Easter 3)


I Will See You Again

We panic when we miss the point. One of the places which inspires panic so very easily is the DMV. You go there to get a new license and it’s filled with one arena after another which, if you miss one small detail, you are filled with panic. You have to get in the proper line. Because if you don’t, you have to go to the back of the line. You have to bring the proper papers, otherwise, you have to come back. You have to answer questions about “turnabouts” on the exam. And if you get those details wrong, you have to take the test again. When we miss the point, when we miss vital details, we begin to panic. That’s the context we find ourselves in in these words in John 16. It’s Maundy Thursday night. Jesus is only hours away from being taken away from them. And he’s telling them and teaching them as much as he possibly can so that, after it’s all done, they eventually would begin to understand. In John 16, we read: 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.” 16 Jesus went on to say, “In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.” 17 At this, some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’ and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” 18 They kept asking, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We don’t understand what he is saying.”” (John 16:15–18 NIV11-GKE)

In these words Jesus tells them their future. What did their future hold? Their future held fears and tears because, for a little while, Jesus would be taken away from them. And then, later on, Jesus tells them, “I will see you again.” And the more the disciples talk about this, the more filled with fear and panic they become. And who can blame them? Other than short periods away from Jesus, day in and day out, for the past several years he has been there with them as their friend, prophet, Savior and King. And now in clear language he lets them know that they will not see him. So, Jesus steps in and calms their panic with these words: 19 Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him about this, so he said to them, “Are you asking one another what I meant when I said, ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me’? 20 Very truly I tell you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices. You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.” (John 16:19–20 NIV11-GKE)

Here Jesus tells them a bitter and beautiful irony. Very shortly they will mourn and grieve because Jesus will be taken from them and they will not see him. And when that happens, the sinful, hostile world around them will rejoice. But it will not stay that way. The situation will be flip-flopped. Later on, they will rejoice while the sinful, hostile world around them grieves. And after saying this, they still don’t understand. So he gives them a concrete illustration to help them: “A woman giving birth to a child has pain because her time has come; but when her baby is born she forgets the anguish because of her joy that a child is born into the world.” (John 16:21 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus uses the illustration of a mom and her child. I remember when I was a teenager. And one Sunday a mom brought her newborn child into church so that the child could be baptized. And after the service a bunch of women gathered around the mom with joy and smiles on their faces. And then, one by one, they talked about how harsh and horrible their labor and delivery was. And was thoroughly confused. They were saying that their labor and deliver was harsh and horrible. But the entire time they were speaking they were smiling. It made no sense at that time. But here in these words Jesus tells us why that happens. When another human, her own child, is brought into the world, her view of that pain changes. So Jesus tells the story. Then after that, Jesus tells the point of the story: 22 So with you: Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. 23 In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 16:22–23 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus lets them know that they will not see him. But, later on they will see him. And when they see him it will not flip-flop again. They will have joy and no one will take away that joy. And if you travel through time after that, you see that what Jesus said was true. Jesus died, but he rose from the dead, giving them joy in being able to see him again and knowing that their sins were paid for. But he also left them again, didn’t he? He ascended into heaven. But, one by one, each of them died. And the moment each of them died, they saw their Savior face to face. And their joy has not been taken away from them. And it never will be.

Jesus promised them, “I will never leave you.” He made them that promise. And today he says the same promise to us. He says to each and every one of us, “I will see you again.” This is the great joy and promise of Easter. Jesus has been taken away from us. None of us can see Jesus face to face. But what does Jesus do for us? First, The Holy Spirit gives us faith to know our Triune God and cling to him. Second, he promises to us that because he rose from the dead, we will see Jesus. And no one—not anyone ever will take that joy from us.

“I will see you again.” This is the promise that Jesus speaks to us. But because this promise is real and true, this is also a promise we can speak to others. The apostle Paul spent many months in Ephesus preaching and teaching his fellow Christians there. But then he had to say, ‘good-bye’. And at the end of his farewell sermon, this was the people’s reaction to his good-bye sermon: 37 They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. 38 What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again.” (Acts 20:37–38 NIV11-GKE)

They had pain, real and true pain, because they knew it would be the last time they saw Paul. But, my dear friends in Christ, was it the last time they saw his face? No, Paul died and saw his Savior’s face in heaven. And then, one by one, each of them died. And then they saw Jesus face to face in heaven. But they also saw Paul. That is the great joy and confidence we have as Christians. When pastors take calls to new congregations, usually after they take their call, what falls on them like a mountain of bricks is the realization that there are people in that congregation they will never see again. And pastors have real pain because of this. But because Jesus says, “I will see you again,”, we can say to each other, “I will see you again.” And so, on the final Sunday I was there in PA, as an extra final hymn, we sang “God be with you till we meet again.”1 And with this, they reminded me that, sure, there is pain. But along with that pain Jesus gives to us a promise: Because he rose from the dead, he will see us face to face, and we will see our fellow Christians face to face.

And so, my dear fellow Christians, when you say good-bye to your children when they grow up and graduate, and you know that you will not see them nearly as often as you used to, speak this promise to them and to yourselves: “I will see you again.” When your cherished Christian friends move away, say good-bye. But also say to them, “I will see you again.” When you no longer see your fellow Christians and loved ones because the Lord called them home through death, you can whisper those soft but true words at their casket, “I will see you again.” You can say those words with every confidence of joy to come. And you can do this because Jesus rose from the dead. Jesus says, “I will see you again.” This is a promise Jesus speaks to us. And because he rose from the dead, this is a promise we can speak to others. Amen.

1 CW 327

The Lord Is Our Shield (Easter 2)


The Lord Is Our Shield

I‘ll wait. One of the scary parts about being a human is how patient Satan is. Last week, on Easter Sunday, we feasted in the Lord’s Supper without fear and sang alleluias with such strength. But then what happened? Time traveled on. And throughout the week the confidence we should have had in the Lord we gave up on. If we trusted in the Lord—if he was our source of strength and hope, then there would have been no need to curse, swear, lie, lust, or be lazy. And this is a powerful reminder to us that Satan is both sneaky and strong. And if there is a day or an area that we are strong in, so very often, he just waits until we are week. That is the context we find here in these words in Genesis 15. In Genesis 14 there was a battle. The kings from far away came and fought with the kings in Abram’s land. The kings in Abram’s land lost. And normally that wouldn’t have been too huge of a concern. But when they lost they carried away the people living in Sodom and Gomorrah. Who was living in Sodom at that time? Abram’s nephew, Lot, was living there. So Abram got his trained men and traveled way up north. He beat up the kings and took back Lot and his family. And, as we read those words in the previous chapter, we do not find a hint that his faith faltered or collapsed. But you turn the page to chapter 15, and this is what you read: 1 After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision: “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward. ” 2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit my estate is Eliezer of Damascus?” 3 And Abram said, “You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”” (Genesis 15:1–3 NIV11-GKE)

When Abram was busy in battle, he was fearless. But when he was alone, by himself, at night, with too much time on his hands, his fears rose and threatened to destroy him. So, in response to this, what does the Lord do? He speaks to Abram. He appears to Abram when he is in his home in a vision. And he gives him two beautiful picture-promises. First, he tells Abram that he is Abram’s shield. A shield is what you need in battle. It keeps both the piercing arrows and the slashing swords away. And notice how the Lord speaks. He says that Abram’s courage and creativity was not his shield and protection. No, instead, the Lord was the one who protected him. Second, he tells Abram that he was Abram’s reward. If the shield is what you need in battle, the reward is what you look forward to after the battle. He lets Abram know that far better than diamonds and rubies, silver and gold, was his great God.

Ahh, but the context has shifted, hasn’t it? It’s not the battlefield anymore. It’s the middle of the long, cold night. And a different fear rises in Abram’s heart. He is childless. Abram has been waiting for almost 20 years. And even though the Lord promised to give him a son, he still remains without a son. And this is no small concern. There are consequences if the Lord does not deliver. And the consequences are far worse than being denied the the joy of having a son. If there is no son, then there is no Easter. You won’t need to worry about Jesus rising from the dead because there will never ever be a Jesus born at all. The stakes are high because the world will remain in its sin if Abram doesn’t have a son. Listen then to how the Lord responds to Abram’s very real objection: 4 Then the word of the Lord came to him: “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir.” 5 He took him outside and said, “Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”” (Genesis 15:4–5 NIV11-GKE)

The Lord took Abram outside and showed him the stars. Then he told Abram to count them. How long do you think it took before Abram gave up counting? Then the Lord piles another promise on top of all the other promises: So shall your offspring be. What an amazing statement to make. But, by dear friends in Christ, words mean nothing unless they contain power. It was not the number of stars in the sky that calmed Abram’s fears. Instead, it was the power of God’s word.

The same was happening to the disciples in the upper room. Their way of guiding their own faith and getting through this world was now shaken and shattered. Jesus rose. And he promised to go to his Father and no longer be with them face to face. Instead, he promised to be with him through his word. And his word contained power.

How easily we forget this. When the context and circumstances in our lives changes, how easily it is to forget the power contained in the promises of God’s word. We are someone else loses a job, gets sick or even dies, and what do we say to those who are grieving? We share statistics. We say, “These problems tend to work out on their own.” Or even worse, we change the subject. We could be sharing God’s powerful word, like the Lord did with Abram, like Jesus did with his disciples. But we don’t. And the reason we act like this is either because we forget that God’s word is that powerful or we don’t believe that it is that powerful. But look how our gracious Lord responds to our selfish sins: He sends his word not just to fearful Abram, but also to us. And God’s word carefully and powerfully calms the fears in our heart and crushes the lies in our heads.

And so, the Lord is our shield. And he shows this by sending his word that contains power. But there’s one more detail to look at in these words: “Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6 NIV11-GKE)

At first, when we read these words, it is ever-so-tempting to conclude that these words are not that important. Abram believed God. So what? But these words are some of the most important words in the entire bible. After the Lord came and spoke to Abram, he could go to bed at peace. But, my dear friends in Christ, know where that peace came from. That peace that Abram had and Jesus gave to his disciples in the upper room did not come from them. It came from the power of God’s word. And from God’s word, the Lord created faith. You see, one of the traps we can fall into is that when we are confronted with the amazing news, we can then conclude that it’s our job to earn the good instead of simply receiving it. On facebook people shared a bunch of beautiful pictures with trees and lakes in the background and word in the foreground last week. And in more than one there was this main point and message: Jesus has risen: what are you going to do about it? Notice the very blatant and blunt point it was making. Jesus has risen. So you have to earn that fact with your hands—good works done for others around you. Or you have to respond and earn Jesus with your heart—a good work done deep down in our hearts where we somehow get ourselves to feel the right and perfect way about Jesus’ resurrection and decide that we believe it. It is ever-so-tempting, but ever-so-unbiblical. Jesus did not put the burden on them to do a good work for him either with their hands or with their hearts to earn his favor. And we see the same here in Genesis on this dark, starry night. Abram was filled with doubt and was on the verge of despair. And the Lord did not appear to him and push him in his weakness of faith over the edge by making him earn the Lord’s favor with a decision made in his heart or effort shown by his hands. Instead he shared his powerful word with Abram and strengthened his faith. For faith is not an act of the will where we decide to earn the Lord and follow him, nor is it a driving force of emotion. Instead, it is confidence and trust. And this trust does not come from us. It comes from the Lord, created by his word.

And just look at what this faith did for Abram: He believed the Lord. He received this status of forgiven and perfect in God’s sight because of the sacrifice one of his male descendents would offer up. The shifting situations where Satan says, “I’ll just wait’” are dealt with as this faith that Abram had washed away all his fear and replaced it with peace. This faith so much cal amidst so much stress. And all of this is true for us today. The Lord is our Shield. He is our great joy and our very great reward. For his word contains power. And our faith gives us peace. Amen.