See What Does Not Change (Pentecost 2)

Moses and the Prophets

See What Does Not Change

He just doesn’t change. There was a newly-married couple. They had spent weeks walking through a pre-marriage counseling class with their pastor. And they weren’t even married for a year and they were back in counseling class. And the brand-new wife told the pastor those words: “He just doesn’t change.’” She had expected that when they got married he would change—he would be less of a slob, he would take her out to eat every week instead of coming home and hiding away from people. There were all these ways she thought that he would change. But, as the pastor told her, the problem is that marriage is not magic. Getting married doesn’t change who you are. You still have the same personalities as you had before you were married. In our lives there are areas that we expect to change. But they don’t. In God’s word this morning we learn the same lesson. And so, this morning, with the Holy Spirit’s invitation, see what does not change. In Luke 16, we read: 19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.” (Luke 16:19–22 NIV11-GKE)

Look in these words at what does not change. We see a man who is thrown at the gate of a rich man.1 He is perpetually poor. And he is perpetually alone and in bad health. The situation is so bad that dogs come over and lick his sores. After reading these words dozens of times over the years, I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news. Are the stray dogs taking advantage and licking his wounds while he’s trying ot fall asleep. Or, as dogs seemingly only can, they are having pity on him and licking his sores because they care for them? Either way it shows how perpetually pitiful his life is.

Now, before we move on, it’s important to realize that there might come a time when, instead of talking about Lazarus, Jesus could speaking about you. You are not guaranteed to have the same health and wealth you have now. And, should the Lord see fit to give you a pitiful existence like Lazarus here, you might pray to have the situation change. And he might. But, in his own good wisdom, he might not. He might keep your status just the way it is.

I remember a lady in my last congregation who got polio as a child. And for eight decades she dealt with the effects of that polio. She had a hard life. And as time went on it didn’t get easier. And I remember visiting her in her closing years seeing her condition slowly get worse. And there was always the temptation that surely God could make her earthly status change. Surely he could change her health and make her life better here. But he didn’t. He didn’t for her. He didn’t for Lazarus here in this part of God’s word. And maybe, just maybe, there might come a time when the Lord brings hardship and tragedy into your life and then doesn’t change it.

You expect it to change, but it doesn’t. That’s the reality that these words bring to our attention. But there’s real good news that follows. Lazarus dies and is carried to Abraham’s arms. One of the most favorite and most beautiful names for believers in the Old Testament was to be called, a “child of Abraham.” And through faith in his Lord, that’s what Lazarus was. His earthly status did not change. But look at what else did not change: His heavenly status did not change. He was a child of Abraham. And when he died, he was carried to Abraham’s side.

Should there come a time when the Lord strips away your health and wealth, and then doesn’t change your earthly status, these are the words that will give you hope and confidence. For even if you earthly status doesn’t change, know that you heavenly status hasn’t changed either. Through the gift of faith, through the waters of baptism, you are a child of God. That does not change. But there is more in these words that does not change: 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’” (Luke 16:23–24 NIV11-GKE)

The status that Lazarus had did not change. But see here that the rich man’s attitude did not change. There he was in hell, being tortured because he refused to repent; he refused to humble himself; he refused to be kind to Lazarus; he refused to believe in the Lord. And now there he is in hell—and what has changed? Nothing has changed.

Years ago, these words struck home for me, because I had this idea in my brain that when an unbeliever dies that person will immediately see how wrong they were. They will see the torment they are enduring in hell and they will see the joy that they are missing out on in heaven and then they will repent. Their attitude will change. But what these words show us so very clearly is that they do not change. These words so powerfully show us that the only place for unbelievers when they die is hell—not because God doesn’t want them, but because they hate the Lord and despise those who follow him. Look at the rich man. There he is, nothing has changed. He ordered Lazarus around before they died. And now, after he dies, he is still trying to order Lazarus around. See what doesn’t change. Unbelievers don’t change when they reach hell. But there’s more: 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”” (Luke 16:25–31 NIV11-GKE)

Look at the rich man in these words. His uneasiness turns to urgency. Then his urgency turns to desperation. He is stuck in hell being tortured. And that will not change. But maybe, just maybe, it might change for his brothers who are still on this earth. So he tells Father Abraham to command Lazarus to warn them. And Father Abraham says, “no, they have Moses and the prophets.” That’s a figure of speech. Today we might hear, “the Whitehouse issued a statement.” Nobody really thinks that a bunch of white bricks did much of anything. Instead what came out of the Whitehouse was a statement. The same is true here. Moses and the prophets are long-dead and in heaven. But what came from them still speaks today. It’s a way of speaking about God’s word. Abraham says that the brothers have God’s word. But then notice what the ignorant, arrogant rich man says. If someone rises from the dead, they will repent. Notice then what Father Abraham says, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded—not even if someone rises from the dead.

Notice the pure and powerful point God makes to us today: God’s method for creating and preserving faith does not change. “Wows” and wonders are not what work. Instead God’s word is the method he uses to create faith and preserve it. These words mean so very much to me. For in my early years as a pastor I thought that what made a church healthy was activities. I concluded that many programs made a healthy church. Then, later on, a wiser pastor told me that programs and activities are only good if they connect people to God’s word. That was my great temptation: to conclude that God needed to change his method, that it wasn’t enough to just simply listen to Moses and the Prophets.

How foolish I was. But also, how gracious our Lord was. For he gave me the same gift he has given all generations of believers: his unchanging word. And he has given to you the same, my brothers and sisters in Christ. Light shows and fog machines don’t bring people to repentance. Moses and the prophets do. “Wows”, wonders and spectacles do not create faith in people’s hearts. Instead, God’s humble word does. And you have God’s word here at Faith. And for that reason, our congregation here at Faith is healthy. For where God connects people to Christ through his word, there will be healthy people and a healthy congregation. Amen.

1 “ⲉⲃⲉⲃⲗⲏⲧⲟ” (Luke 16:20 GNT-ALEX)

The Confirmation of RayAnne Annala


Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Iwant 110%. Years ago, RayAnne, when I was your age, I was on a football team. And that’s what the coach told us. He wanted us to give 110% of our effort and energy on the field. And I remember thinking to myself, first of all, that’s just plain bad math. The most I could give is 100\%. But second, could I even really give 100% of my energy? This morning God’s word says the same to you, RayAnne. In the book of Proverbs, God’s words says to you, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding;” (Proverbs 3:5 CSB17)

So I want you to think for a moment, RayAnne and ponder this thought: How can you not just trust in the Lord, but also trust in him with all your heart? What follows in the rest of these words are answers to that question. If we ask, “how can I trust in the Lord with all my heart,” Your Lord says to you, “in all your ways know him,” (Proverbs 3:6 CSB17)

There’s a very simple but important point that God’s word makes here. How can you trust in the Lord, if you don’t know him? Think, for example, what we learned in the book of Genesis. Adam and Eve rebelled against God. And the result of this is that they did not trust him anymore. And they did not trust him because they did not know him.

Now, you, RayAnne, know the Lord. You were introduced to him as a tiny baby when you were baptized and God placed faith in your heart. You grew in that knowledge of him in your years of Sunday School, and when your parents brought you here to church to hear God’s word, and now, finally you know God even more after two years of confirmation class. But notice what God’s word says here. It does not say, “Know the Lord until you are 14 years old.” It says, “Continue to know him.”1(Proverbs 3:6 BHS-T)}} The only way we know about God is to continue learning about him in his word. And this is a lifelong task and joy for us.

And this becomes even more important when we see how deeply sin affects us in our every day life. When we were in catechism class and we got to Genesis 3 and Adam and Eve heard the Lord walking in the garden in the cool of the day, what did they do? They hid. You cannot hide from God. And yet they tried. Sin makes us stupid. It was true then. And it’s true now. That’s why we are in God’s word, reading it at home, hearing it here in worship, and studying it in bible class. And so, let me give you an example from my life to show what this looks like. After my first year in college I sold stuff as a summer job—stuff that nobody needed, and nobody wanted. But I thought everything would work out fine for me. Why? Because God’s word says, “ask, and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9 CSB17) I didn’t go home with any money that summer. Why? Just as sin made Adam and Eve stupid, so also, it made me stupid. That “ask, seek, knock” part of the bible had nothing to do physical blessings. Instead, it had to do with spiritual blessings. But I did not know the Lord because I did not study his word.

RayAnne, learn from my mistakes. Know the Lord. And the only way you can know the Lord is to be in God’s word, reading it at home, hearing it here in worship, and studying it in bible class. Then, when that is in place, what will happen? God’s word tells us: “and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:6 CSB17)

When we know the Lord, then we are able to trust in the Lord—yes, even with our whole heart. For the Lord makes all these promises in his word. And he keeps them all. And we make all these blundering mistakes, and yet, he still forgives us because of Jesus and watches over us.

So God’s word says to you, Trust in the \textsc{Lord with all your heart.} And that means knowing the Lord through his word. But there’s more: 7 Don’t be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and turn away from evil. 8 This will be healing for your body and strengthening for your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7–8 CSB17)

Not only do we know the Lord, we also fear the Lord. Now, here is where we learn that we cannot trust the Lord with all our heart if we have the wrong relationship with the Lord. Again, to use a picture from your every day life. You have a different relationship with your Dad than with your friends at school. Your dad is not your BFF. Your dad will tell you when you’re on the right track. And when you’re on the wrong track—when you say or do something wrong, he will tell you. It’s like that but even more so with your God above. Our relationship with our God is based on fear. But notice that the way the bible uses that word is completely different than the way the world does. When the Lord gives us rules and laws, saying “Don’t do this’” we can trust him. Compare this with the rules at school. One of the problems I had with school when I was your age was that, for so much of the time, the rules didn’t seem to apply. They would put up a sign, “don’t walk on the grass.’” And then what happened? Everyone walked on the grass and nobody cared. It’s not like this with God. When he says something is wrong and dangerous to us, we can trust in him and rely on him.

And the same is true when it comes to forgiveness. When the Lord says to you, RayAnne, “you are forgiven,” you can trust in those words. Jesus obeyed all the ten commandments in your place so that you could rely on those words. Jesus died to pay for your sins so that you could rely on those words. Jesus rose from the grave and then rose into heaven so that you could rely on those words. And the result of all of this is fear. Yes, there’s real fear and terror because when God says that something is wrong, he means it. But there is also this joy, awe, and wonder, because when God says to you, RayAnne, “your sins are forgiven”, he means it and you can trust it. And you can trust it not just with a part of your heart. You can trust it with all your heart.

God’s word here is not like my gradeschool football coach giving us an impossible command with bad math. No, your Lord invites you to trust him with all your heart. We are unable to do this on our own. But the Holy Spirit has given us faith in him so that we know who he is and trust in him. And we do this all throughout our entire lives by knowing the Lord through his word. We do this by fearing the Lord with the right relationship with him. Amen.

1 ”דָעֵ֑הוּ“

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.