Give Us Time (Easter Sunrise)

Easter

Give Us Time (Easter Sunrise)
Year B

 
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Give Us Time


It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. Many years ago the French emperor, Napoleon, said that. You see, if your army is about to be beaten on the field of battle, you can withdraw a large chunk of your troops. And they can fight on another day. But if you are surprised, those are the times when you can lose your entire army. When you read any of the gospels, you very quickly realize that Jesus knows that he will die. But everyone else does not. So he goes out of his way to prepare them and teach them. And the women we meet here in the darkness of Easter morning were some of the few who had a decent grasp on the fact that Jesus would die and that he did die. In Mark 16, we read: 1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”” (Mark 16:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


It is permissible to be beaten, but not surprised. These women had more than two years of teaching to be prepared for the fact that Jesus would die. But when the time came for Jesus to die, how could they really ever be fully prepared? And, in the midst of dealing with Jesus’ death, they aren’t even able to focus on it as much as they would like because they have to deal with a funeral. They buy spices to prepare Jesus body in his tomb on Friday and then now, on Sunday they can finally use them. One of the shocking and frustrating situations I’ve had to deal with is funerals. A person loses their loved one through death. And more than anything the family members just simply want time to deal with the death. But instead, they have to prepare and attend a funeral service. It doesn’t seem fair. But these women went through the same situation as we do today. But if they had a problem dealing with Jesus’ shocking and surprising death, they were even more unprepared for what followed: 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’ ”” (Mark 16:4–7 NIV11-GKE)


If they were shocked and surprised at having to deal with Jesus’ death then they were even more shocked and surprised in having to deal with Jesus’ life. The angel in the tomb tells them simple, plain and eloquent words. Jesus is raised. He is not here. This would be the part where they’re supposed to take out their “alleluia” banners and wave them around while they sing, “I know that my Redeemer lives.” But they don’t. Instead, this is what happens: “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.” (Mark 16:8 NIV11-GKE)


They were not ready. They were not really ready to deal with Jesus’ death. And even more so, they were not ready to deal with Jesus’ life. And so their minds collapsed and their hearts gave way and they ran away in fear. And so, what is their Savior’s solution to their inability to deal with his death and with his life? He gives them time. Over the next 40 days he appears to many people revealing that he had risen from the dead.


He gave them time—both to deal with his death and with his life. And today he does the same for us. Every year our Savior gives us this 40 days of lent to prepare for his death, so that by the time Good Friday arrives, we’re ready. But what he also does is that he gives us time to prepare for his life. In the first congregation I served in we had an Easter Sunrise service like this one. And after it was done there was a lady who came and spoke with me. She told me that she was frustrated and angry with me because she expected to come to church and sing “alleluia” instead of diving back into darkness. And she said, “You took Easter away from me.” I was really shocked by what she had said. But what it showed me is that she had never really grappled with the words we have in front of us today. These poor women were not ready. They were not ready for Jesus’ death and they were not ready for his life. What they needed was time. And that’s what our Lord and Savior gave them. And that’s what the Easter vigil gives us—time.


For many centuries what would happen is that Christians would gather around midnight on Saturday night and then read God’s word, hear sermons, have bible studies and sing hymns to prepare themselves not as much for Jesus’ death, but instead, for Jesus life. And then, when the sun came up in the morning they rejoiced in their Savior’s resurrection and then went home and got some sleep. They needed time to adjust to Jesus’ life. And so they set aside the time. Do realize that if Christians saw what we do on Easter Sunday they would think that it’s strange. Where’s the time to adjust from Jesus’ death to his life? We slowly walk through lent and slowly work through Jesus’ death on Good Friday, and then what do we do? With no time for transition we suddenly show up and shout “alleluia” at each other. That would have been weird for the ancient Christians.


And that then is what this order of service is: time to deal with Jesus’ life’. The light outside that slowly fades away on Good Friday we slowly allow to come back. The candles that we put out on Good Friday, we slowly light back up on Easter morning to give us time to deal with Jesus’ death and his life.


And so, out of love for us, Jesus gives us time—time to deal with his death and time to deal with his life. And this is not just important to speak about on Easter. It’s also important to speak about on our last day. Sunday after Sunday, year after year, y0u have the great privilege to hear, study and grow in God’s word. And through this what does Jesus do? He makes us ready for our own death. Because Jesus died, we are able to look at our own death with faith and confidence even amidst our own fear. But Jesus also gives us time to deal with our life. They had the privilege to see a resurrected Savior. And that showed them a glimpse of what their resurrected life would be. And through God’s word we have the same privilige.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, I encourage you to look at this hour of worship this morning as a great gift of time. Here in these words this morning we have one last time to deal with Jesus’ death. And we have time to deal with Jesus’ life. And that gives us every reason to be ready for our own future death and our own future life. Amen.



What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 5)

Cross

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 5)
Year B

 
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What Are You Looking For?


You have to deal with it. One of the challenges in our lives is that it is far, far easier to put off till tomorrow what we could be doing today. But, at some point you have to deal with the situation. It could be your Spring cleaning. It could be your taxes. I hope it’s not your Christmas decorations. It would be past time to deal with those. And these are all small examples. But the larger, more important example of this that Mark brings to our eyes is what we do with or deal with when it comes to Jesus. In Mark 15, we read: 1 As soon as it was morning, having held a meeting with the elders, scribes, and the whole Sanhedrin, the chief priests tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. 2 So Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.” 3 And the chief priests accused him of many things. 4 Pilate questioned him again, “Aren’t you going to answer? Look how many things they are accusing you of!” 5 But Jesus still did not answer, and so Pilate was amazed.” (Mark 15:1–5 CSB17)


As you have grown accustomed to, there is a familiar A….B…A structure in Mark’s gospel. Here the pattern is spacial. People deal with who Jesus is inside, then they deal with Jesus outside, then finally, inside again. And so, the first person to deal with who Jesus is is Pilate. So remember where we were last Wednesday. The Jewish leaders had a secret, illegal trial in the middle of the night. Then, just when the sun comes up, they assemble the entire Sanhedrin and make their illegal verdict official. Then, very quickly, they dish Jesus off to Pilate. And Pilate is just simply not equipped to handle the situation in front of him. He is used to the Jewish leaders being against each other in just about every issue. But here, in front of him, they were united in one issue. They wanted Jesus dead. What we need to picture this evening is the prætorium. The Pætorium is this big courtyard. So you picture steps and a dais on one side with Pilate’s living quarters behind that. In the middle is Jesus. And around him are hundreds of soldiers. Just outside that are the Jews accusing Jesus. But Mark gets to the conclusion of the conversation. Pilate says, “You are the King of the Jews, aren’t you?’”1 It’s a question that expects a “yes” answer. In a very interesting way Jesus responds to him. He says, “That’s what you say.’”2 It reminds me of when I got into stupid arguments with other children when I was growing up. When someone made fun of me, the ‘go-to’ response was “Sez you!” Here Jesus means these words truly and sincerely. Pilate had a warped notion of what a king was and should be. But Pilate wasn’t there to learn from Jesus. Pilate was there to use Jesus. To Pilate Jesus was a convenient King. Pilate’s plan was to use Jesus to hopefully free Jesus. But if that didn’t work, at least he could use Jesus to survive at least one more day. But that’s not the sort of king Pilate had in front of him. Kings make commands. Instead, Pilate wanted to make commands to Jesus.


And isn’t the same true today. The King of kings says today, “I have mercy on some and send them to heaven” and “I will be fair and just ot others and send them to hell.” And in response, the sin-filled world around us says: “I will not follow a king who allows such evil people into heaven and I will not follow a king who sends people to hell who do so little that’s really wrong.’” Instead of hearing and obeying commands to the King of Kings, they give commands to him or ignore his commands.


And isn’t the same true of us? We can despise Pilate or laugh at the world around us for making Jesus into a convenient King. But we do the same. Our King makes commands. He tells us to worship him with our whole heart, but our focus and attention drifts in and out the entire time we are here this evening. Our king commands us to grow in God’s word by reading our bibles at home and studying them here, but it’s ever-so-tempting to ignore those commands from our King. He commands us to come to him regularly in prayer. But it’s ever-so-tempting to redefine that command into “when I get around to it.” Pilate called Jesus the King of the Jews. But he made him into a convenient king. And all of us do the same today. But then, Mark shifts our away from the inside to the outside: 6 At the festival Pilate used to release for the people a prisoner whom they requested. 7 There was one named Barabbas, who was in prison with rebels who had committed murder during the rebellion. 8 The crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do for them as was his custom. 9 Pilate answered them, “Do you want me to release the King of the Jews for you?” 10 For he knew it was because of envy that the chief priests had handed him over. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd so that he would release Barabbas to them instead. 12 Pilate asked them again, “Then what do you want me to do with the one you call the King of the Jews?” 13 Again they shouted, “Crucify him!” 14 Pilate said to them, “Why? What has he done wrong?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!” 15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them; and after having Jesus flogged, he handed him over to be crucified.” (Mark 15:6–15 CSB17)


Here, as the focus shifts to the crowd on the outside we see a fascinating irony: The harder Pilate tries, the worse the situation gets. Pilate pleads for this king’s innocence. Then, when that doesn’t work, he tries to compromise and just have the king beaten. But that just makes the situation worse and they then go for everything they can: they shout, “Crucify him.”


But, as ironic as the situation is, it is also perfectly completely appropriate. For Jesus was the only one there who took that title that Pilate spoke seriously. The King of the Jews must finally take responsibility for the Jews. Who would pay for the piled up generations of rebellions and lies the Jews told? To whom much is given, much is expected. And so, it was appropriate and even perfect that their shout would be Jesus’ will. For the King of the Jews had to take responsibility for the Jews. And even more amazing still, Jesus takes responsibility not only for the rebellions of the Jews, but also for us Gentiles. Pilate looked for a convenient King. And we too have followed in his footsteps. The crowd looked for a crucified king. And, in such a perfect and appropriate way, what they wanted, they got. For this king takes responsibility for their rebellions and ours. But these words end back inside the prætorium again: 16 The soldiers led him away into the palace (that is, the governor’s residence) and called the whole company together. 17 They dressed him in a purple robe, twisted together a crown of thorns, and put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 19 They were hitting him on the head with a stick and spitting on him. Getting down on their knees, they were paying him homage. 20 After they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple robe and put his clothes on him.” (Mark 15:16–20 CSB17)


Pilate looks for a convenient king. The crowd cries out for a crucified king. The soldiers make Jesus into a clown king. They beat him up. They spit on him. They make fun of him. All of my life I’ve had a strange understanding of clowns. For I’ve never known exactly why they exist. When I was a child there were a bunch of clowns who came to our school. And there was this one clown who gave a kid a bat and then made fun of the kid until the kid beat the clown with the bat. Then, when the kid hit the clown the first time, the crowd around looked at the clown in shock. What would the clown do? Would he encourage the violence or stop it? The clown did everything he could to get the kid to beat him more. Why? Maybe he was trying to provide the children with an outlet: beat on me instead of beating on each other. Maybe he just simply thought it was funny and knew others would think it was funny too. But it taught a very real lesson: it was ok to beat on this guy—and it was even fun. That’s what the soldiers learned about Jesus. No one would get in their way. And the abuse they poured out on Jesus was fun.


We too have the same temptation. But our temptation is not to beat Jesus with rods. Instead, it’s with our words. We can cry out and use the name of our King in the wrong way when we are angry because we think it will make us feel better. We can cry out and use the name of our King as a punchline to a joke. And we can conclude that’s “ok” because it makes us feel better. No it isn’t. When we use the name of our King in a sinful way either through anger or laughter, it is wrong. We are making Jesus into a clown king.


But here is were we return back outside again in our own hearts. For Jesus wasn’t just the king of the Jews, he was also the King for the Jews. He paid for that sin along with all the others when he was crucified. For Jesus is the atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. Amen.



1 “ⲥⲩⲉⲓⲟⲃⲁⲥⲓⲗⲉⲩⲥⲧⲱⲛⲓ̈ⲟⲩⲇⲁⲓⲱⲛ·” (Mark 15:2 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲥⲩⲗⲉⲅⲉⲓⲥ·” (Mark 15:2 GNT-ALEX)

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 4)

Gethsemane

What Are You Looking For? (Midweek Lent 4)
Year B

 
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What Are You Looking For?


January is a difficult month. At the beginning of each year people make New Year’s resolutions. They flood into gyms. And, for years, when I used to go to a gym like that, that was a frustrating month. That was the month there was no open spaces in the exercise classes. That was the month there was no open showers. But by this time of the year most of those people were gone. And they were gone ever year. And it made me ask the question: Is it possible to be a part-time member of a club? And the answer is: yes. It’s not the wisest use of money. But you can pay for a gym membership and then only go occasionally. But does it work the same way as a Christian? Can you be a part-time Christian that is not attached and not entangled? That’s the question that Mark makes us ask this evening. In Mark 14, we read: 53 They led Jesus away to the high priest, and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes assembled. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the high priest’s courtyard. He was sitting with the servants, warming himself by the fire.” (Mark 14:53–54 CSB17)


Can you follow Jesus from afar? Can you be a disciple from a distance? That’s the question that Mark makes us ask. He lets us see Peter trying to straddle the fence. And he wants us to stop and ponder that question: Can I be a disciple from a distance? Then, as is his habit, he takes us away to another person. We read: 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death, but they could not find any. 56 For many were giving false testimony against him, and the testimonies did not agree. 57 Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, stating, 58 “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands, and in three days I will build another not made by hands.’” 59 Yet their testimony did not agree even on this. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them all and questioned Jesus, “Don’t you have an answer to what these men are testifying against you?” 61 But he kept silent and did not answer. Again the high priest questioned him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?” 62 “I am,” said Jesus, “and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.” 63 Then the high priest tore his robes and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? 64 You have heard the blasphemy. What is your decision?” They all condemned him as deserving death. 65 Then some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to beat him, saying, “Prophesy!” The temple servants also took him and slapped him.” (Mark 14:55–65 CSB17)


After making us ponder the question, can I be a disciple from a distance, he takes us to Jesus who is on trial. Here in these words it’s deep into the night, Maybe 2 or 3 AM. And in these words Jesus is waiting and looking for a way and a time to speak the truth. So all the priests and all the Sanhedrin were there. And they make up one lie to accuse Jesus of. And accusation after accusation, lie after lie, Jesus is silent. And finally then the chief priest stands up and accuses Jesus. And Jesus is still silent. Then, finally he asks Jesus the right question. He says, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One, aren’t you?” And here, finally, Jesus answers. Here is where Jesus takes his stand. Here is where Jesus is willing to lay his life on the line for us. He is not willing to be condemned made up lies. But he is willing to be condemned for who he actually is, the Son of Man.


Now, notice that Jesus tells the high priest, “yes.” But he does so in a very interesting way. Early on in Jesus’ ministry he called himself the Son of God, and they hated him for it. From that time on he would call himself the Son of Man. This was a way of emphasizing his humanity and frailty as a human. But in a very interesting way, he would refer to himself as the Son of Man at the very same time he did something only God could do. Here in these words he is doing much the same. When he is asked if he is the “Christ” he says that he is the “Son of Man.” But then notice what where he goes. He takes us way back into the Old Testament to the book of Daniel.1 In the book of Daniel God the Father is pictured, sitting on this throne. And there is one who looks “like a son of man.” But this Son of Man will come on the last day to judge the living and the dead. Notice what Jesus was doing with these words. He was both admitting that he was the Son of God without saying the words and urging them to repent of their sins. But instead of repenting, they began to persecute Jesus.


All of this then drives us to ask a very important question: why? Why did Jesus wait for this exact and precise moment to say that he was the Son of Man and true God in front of them all? We find the answer that question in the words that follow: 66 While Peter was in the courtyard below, one of the high priest’s maidservants came. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” 68 But he denied it: “I don’t know or understand what you’re talking about.” Then he went out to the entryway, and a rooster crowed. 69 When the maidservant saw him again, she began to tell those standing nearby, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. After a little while those standing there said to Peter again, “You certainly are one of them, since you’re also a Galilean.” 71 Then he started to curse and swear, “I don’t know this man you’re talking about!” 72 Immediately a rooster crowed a second time, and Peter remembered when Jesus had spoken the word to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.” (Mark 14:66–72 CSB17)


Just as Mark begins this part of God’s word with Peter, so also, he ends with him too. Can you follow from a distance? Can you follow from afar? Peter tries to and then fails. For there’s this servant girl who recognizes him. She asks whether he was with Jesus. And he denies being a follower of Jesus. And what’s interesting here is that he can’t deal with her the way he dealt with Malchus in the Garden of Gethsemane. He cannot deal with this situation with violence. You can’t beat up a teenage girl with feisty questions. So he takes the only course of action that he can: he denies that he is a follower of Jesus. Then he walks out of the courtyard. She sees him again and asks him the same question in front of other people. He denies Jesus a second time. Then, after a little while, the people standing there question Peter. And, with curses and oaths he denies that he even remotely knows who Jesus is. And these words are sadder than they appear. For in Hebrew, oaths like this were negative oaths. Peter was cursing himself if he knew who Jesus even was—let along follow him. Peter was saying, “May I burn in hell forever if I even know who this guy is.”


Can you be a disciple from a distance? Can you follow from afar? The clear answer is: no. It was true for Peter. It is true for us too. The world sees you. The world sees if you follow Jesus or not. If you follow Jesus closely, they see it. If you try to follow Jesus from afar, they see it. And either direction you take, they will condemn you. That’s the bitter irony that Peter learned. If I take my stand with Jesus in front of the entire world, the entire world will condemn me. And if I try to hide my faith and pretent that I can follow Jesus from afar, the world will properly and rightly accuse me of hypocrisy and then condemn me. You cannot be a half-way Christian. Either you follow Jesus completely, or you deny Jesus completely. Peter denied Jesus completely to avoid the condemnation of the world. And his example condemns us too for the times we have done the same.


But even though these words start with a question and end in bitterness, there is hope in them. For Peter denied Jesus in front of them all. And we can find times and examples in our lives when we have done the same. But look at Jesus. Even as Jesus was being condemned, he reached out with words of repentance, letting them know he would come to judge the living and the dead. And those words even still today move us to repent. And they don’t just move us to repent. They also move us to praise Jesus. For Jesus was the one who was willing to speak the truth in front of them all for us. And then he was willing to die for that truth. With that faithfulness he wins our redemption and covers our sins of following from a distance. Amen.



1 Daniel 7:13

There Is Only One Winner (Lent 3)

Faith

There Is Only One Winner (Lent 3)
Year B

 
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There Is Only One Winner


What do you watch in the Olympics? Some people like to see the competition between the one who will get first place and the one who will get second place. Sometimes that struggle is interesting to watch. But if you really want to see a struggle, see the struggle between third and fourth place. Because, with third place, you get to be up there, standing on that podium with a smile on your face and with a medal around your neck. With fourth place, you get to go home. And so, very often the mose intense struggles are for third place, not first. But at the end of the day, the Olympics are just games. The struggle between first and second, or third and fourth is nothing compared to the struggle that happens in war. And that’s what Jesus works so hard this morning to let us see. There is a war going on every day around us. It’s a war between Jesus and Satan. And there can be only one winner. In Luke 11, we read: 14 Now he was driving out a demon that was mute. When the demon came out, the man who had been mute spoke, and the crowds were amazed. 15 But some of them said, “He drives out demons by Beelzebul, the ruler of the demons.” 16 And others, as a test, were demanding of him a sign from heaven.” (Luke 11:14–16 CSB17)


In these words Jesus is working a miracle. None of the people gathered there could do what Jesus just did. Jesus had just driven out a demon from a man. And instead of standing there in awe and appreciation, they accused him of being on the side of Satan. In the words which follow notice how Jesus goes out of his way to show them what is going on. In war there is only one winner: 17 Knowing their thoughts, he told them, “Every kingdom divided against itself is headed for destruction, and a house divided against itself falls. 18 If Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand? For you say I drive out demons by Beelzebul. 19 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your sons drive them out? For this reason they will be your judges. 20 If I drive out demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. 21 When a strong man, fully armed, guards his estate, his possessions are secure. 22 But when one stronger than he attacks and overpowers him, he takes from him all his weapons he trusted in, and divides up his plunder.” (Luke 11:17–22 CSB17)


In war, the most stupid thing a person could do is help the enemy. What motivation or reason would Satan have for getting rid of one of his soldiers? It’s complete nonsense to conclude that this makes sense. Then Jesus illustrates his point with a story. There’s a strong man. And he has and enjoys what he has because he is strong and well-armed. But what happens? A stronger man comes along. He beats the strong man up, takes his weapons and armor. Then does he give anything to the strong man? No, the stronger man takes every item for himself and gives it to whomever he wants. What’s the point? There is warfare going on between Jesus and Satan. And there is no middle ground. Either Satan wins entirely and does entirely what he wants with people, or Jesus does. He then concludes with these words: “Anyone who is not with me is against me, and anyone who does not gather with me scatters.” (Luke 11:23 CSB17)


There are those times when we hear sermons and ask the question, “so what” or “now what?” This is Jesus answering that question. There is no middle ground. In the battle for your soul either Jesus wins or Satan wins. There is only one winner. There is only one winner in conversion. When we are speaking about conversion, what we mean is that instant and moment when you used to be an unbeliever and then in an instant you became a believer in Jesus. Jesus has converted your hearts and your souls to him. But with that fact comes the temptation to sin. The temptation to sin comes from forgetting what Jesus speaks of here. There is warfare for each person’s soul. And either Satan wins or Jesus does. And I can speak of how I have sinned against this fact. There have been people I have known—friends and family members who were not Christians. And I wanted them to be Christians. But I forgot these words and failed. Instead of bringing this warfare to them, I sold them salvation. I thought that if I were nice enough and showed them that my church was nice enough, then they would be Christians. I thought if I showed them with unshakable, unbreakable logic that God’s word was true, they would become Christians. But it never worked because I forget what Jesus preaches here: People either belong to Jesus, or to Satan. And if they belong to Satan they don’t care. They don’t care how nice your church is or how clear or true your logic is. They belong to Satan and they love to belong to him. What has to happen instead is warfare. Jesus has to enter in as the stronger man and defeat Satan so that they belong to him and not to Satan anymore.


There is only one winner in conversion. But the same is true when it comes to sanctification too. Sanctification is what happens after you are a Christian. It’s the daily struggling and wrestling against sin. And the point is the same: there is only one winner. Every day you wage war against your sinful nature and Satan. And not just every day, but many times within each day. And we need to wage this continual war because, day after day, there is this powerful sinful nature in us that loves sin instead of having a Savior. It’s that sinful influence and voice inside of us that loves being forgiven but yet also loves sin: the places on the internet we should not visit, the greed we should not gather, the gossip and slander we should not spread, and the list goes on. Do not think that there is some middle ground where you can love your sin and also love your Savior at the same time. There is only one winner when it comes to your soul: either Jesus or Satan. And in the words which follow Jesus lets us know that if we continue to love sin and our Savior at the same time, there are horrible consequences which follow: 24 “When an unclean spirit comes out of a person, it roams through waterless places looking for rest, and not finding rest, it then says, ‘I’ll go back to my house that I came from.’ 25 Returning, it finds the house swept and put in order. 26 Then it goes and brings seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and settle down there. As a result, that person’s last condition is worse than the first.”” (Luke 11:24–26 CSB17)


So Satan’s soldier, a demon, is driven out of a person. It goes away for a time. But then what happens? It sees that where it used to live is unguarded. So what does it do? It invites seven other demons. It says, “I will go back to my house.” And since the house is swept up and prettied-up, it can’t wait to trash the place again. What is the house in these words? You are the house. If we love our sin and pretend that we can also love our Savior, eventually all we will have is our sin. There is only one winner in your soul: either Satan or Jesus. Jesus is so focused and so determined. Then, out of nowhere, we hear these words: 27 As he was saying these things, a woman from the crowd raised her voice and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the one who nursed you!” 28 He said, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it.”” (Luke 11:27–28 CSB17)


A woman in the crowd raises her voice. And she blesses Jesus. And from her interruption and interjection, we see that she really doesn’t get the seriousness of what Jesus is saying. It was not the time or occasion to bless Jesus. So what does Jesus do? He puts her back on track. The ones who are blessed are those who hear the word of God and guard it!


There is only one winner. In your every day life, who will that be? Satan or Jesus. These are the sorts of questions which drive us to despair. For this is a battle we cannot win. We are powerless to stand up against Satan, aren’t we? How many times have we been tempted and failed? The victor on this battle field has to be someone else than us. And that victor is Jesus. When you came into this world you belonged to Satan. And you loved to belong to him. But what did Jesus do? He poured water on you and put his name on you in your baptism. From that point on you no longer belong to Satan, but instead, to Jesus. And there have been so many times even as Christians we have thought we can play both sides, loving sin and loving our Savior. So what does Jesus do? Through those waters of baptism he takes the forgiveness that he won on the cross and delivers it to you, individually and personally. And day by day we have to carry out this warfare against Satan and our sinful nature. So what does he do? In these waters of baptism he gives us the Holy Spirit to combat Satan. And in these waters of baptism he gives us a new nature to fight the old sinful nature.


There is only one winner. In conversion and in sanctification, there is only one winner. Give thanks and glory to God for in your souls that victor is Jesus. And out of pure thanks listen to his words and keep them. Amen.


Jesus Will Arrive (Proper 29—The Last Sunday)

“ “Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Mark 13:28–29 NIV11-GKE)

Jesus Will Arrive (Proper 29—The Last Sunday)
Year B

 
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Jesus Will Arrive


Can you trust the ticket? Every couple of years I have to fly on a plane. Back in the old days you reserved your flight and then they mailed you a ticket. It looked all official with borders and edges and cardboard. But then that all changed. Some years ago, after you booked your flight, they let you print out your boarding pass at home. And I have to admit, that scared me. The first time I went to the airport with a boarding pass printed out at home, when I was waiting for the flight to be boarded, I was scared. I was scared because it seemed so fake. Somehow, without having borders and edges and cardboard it didn’t seem official. But, of course, when they called my name and I presented them with the pass and they let me board, all my fears were put to rest. This is the last day of the year. This is the day when, above all, we recognize and focus in on the fact that Jesus will arrive. At any time he could come to judge the living and the dead. And as we begin these words from Mark 13 this morning, we realize that since Jesus will arrive, we can wait securely. In Mark 13, we read: 24 “But in those days, following that distress, “ ‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; 25 the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’” (Mark 13:24–25 NIV11-GKE)


On the last day, what will happen? On the last day the universe will be dismantled. The picture Jesus gives us here is what we see above us in the sky. We are used to seeing the stars above and having them as a reliable anchor for directions and for time. But, what if suddenly, the Big Dipper no longer looked like the big dipper because all those stars in the Big Dipper winked out? If people are aware of how cold it gets in the winter and how hot it gets in the summer and the levels of the oceans and seas, what will their reaction be when the stars are shattered and creation itself collapses? And then, right after that happens, what will happen next? 26 At that time people will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory. 27 And he will send his angels and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of the heavens.” (Mark 13:26–27 NIV11-GKE)


After creation collapses, Jesus arrives. Now notice how Jesus speaks here. These are words of consolation and comfort. Jesus will send out his angels to the four corners of the world and collect the elect and carry us to heaven. That’s the “what”. But there’s another question to ask: “Now what?28 Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. 29 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” (Mark 13:28–29 NIV11-GKE)


Creation will collapse. Jesus will arrive. What should our attitude be? To answer that question Jesus tells us a story. He takes us to spring. When you see those green buds on the branches of the trees, what can you conclude? Winter is over and summer is so very close. And so, Jesus tells us when we see these things happening—stars shattering and creation collapsing, what should we conclude? We conclude that Jesus is at the door.


Again, notice how these words are words of comfort and consolation. When we see the stars shatter and creation collapse, instead of being filled with fear, we should be filled with joy. For that is the time when Christ’s angels will collected the elect and take us to heaven. But here is where we see our temptation to sin, don’t we? When creation collapses, our knee-jerk temptation might be to see our sin and conclude that we aren’t ready. Who can stand in God’s presence? What sinner doesn’t deserve to be crushed along with all the rest of God’s creation on Judgment Day? If that is our temptation—and it’s a very natural one to have, then listen to Jesus says to you: 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mark 13:30–31 NIV11-GKE)


Everything above your head will fall away and everything below your feet will pass away. But what will not? Jesus’ words will never pass away. Those sure and secure promises will not fall away. Jesus has promised to us that because we are sinners, he died for our sins—because we have no holiness in us, he bathed us in his own holiness so that when he arrives we can stand in God’s presence. So until that day comes, wait securely. For Christ has paid for your ticket with his own blood and life. But these words continue: 32 But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come.” (Mark 13:32–33 NIV11-GKE)


Jesus will arrive. So wait securely. But notice what Jesus teaches us in these words. We not only wait securely. We also wait soberly. No one knows when Jesus will arrive. Since this is true that no one knows when Jesus will arrive, what should our lives look like? Jesus again tells us a story to teach us: 34 It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. 35 “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back—whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping.” (Mark 13:34–36 NIV11-GKE)


So, in the story there’s a master of a household. He goes away for a long journey. So he tells his servants to be sober always. For the servant does not know when the master will return. And this too shows us that we have the temptation to sin, but in the opposite way as Jesus spoke before. Our first temptation is to not be secure in the fact that Jesus paid the price and now we are ready. But here the temptation is to not be sober as we wait. It’s a powerful picture, isn’t it? What happens after you eat your Thanksgiving turkey and have a couple glasses of wine? First, we can’t focus. Then, we fall asleep.


There is this real temptation to become sleepy spiritually. What does this look like? It’s worrying about work—the people there, the projects there, whether you will have your job in a week or a year if you don’t work hard enough. But what does Jesus tell us here? What good is it to make the world revolve around your work when the world can go up in flames at any time? It’s worrying about the politics between nations when at any moment there could be no nations because all of creation is collapsing in on itself. The list could go on an on, right? But the point is clear: we sin when we show by our attitudes and actions that we care more about the pursuits in this world and forget that at any time this world could end.


So, if that’s the problem and our great temptation to sin, what then is the answer from God’s word: “What I say to you, I say to everyone: ‘Watch!’ ”” (Mark 13:37 NIV11-GKE) Jesus says, “watch!” More accurately, it simply means, “be sober.”1 What good is it to have your plane ticket paid for, but then miss your flight? How then do we wait soberly? Cling to what will not collapse when Jesus arrives. What then is the only thing that will remain? Jesus’ words. Why do you think Jesus and his apostles spend so much time encouraging us to read God’s word and study it with your pastor? It’s the only thing that will remain on Judgment Day. Through God’s word he forgives our sins—Even the sins we commit when we are not sober and instead quite sleepy. So we read it and dwell in it.


So Jesus encourages us to wait soberly by clinging to what will remain forever—his words. But there is one last final way we wait soberly: We pray. In verse 33, there’s a little footnote which lets us know that there are a bunch of manuscripts which add the words,
“And pray.”2 This too is how we can wait soberly. Every day we can, on the one hand, thank our Good and Gracious Lord for giving us food and family, shelter and clothing. But at the same time, we can pray that he would keep us sober so that the creation around us would not distract us from the salvation waiting for us.


So my dear friends in Christ, Jesus will arrive. Since this is true, wait securely, and wait soberly. Amen.



1 “ⲅⲣⲏⲅⲟⲣⲉⲓⲧⲉ” (Mark 13:37 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲕⲁⲓⲡⲣⲟⲥⲉⲩⲭⲉⲥⲑⲁⲓ” (Mark 13:33 GNT-ALEX)

The Time Is Coming (Proper 28)

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

The Time Is Coming (Proper 28)
Year B

 
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The Hour Has Come


Imiss the bells. Through all of my years of school we had bells. When a class ended, there were bells to let us know. Then, after I graduated from the Seminary and went back to summer school, there were no bells. And I found that unsettling. I relied on those bells to tell me that the time had come. The hour had come for me to pack up my books and move onto the next class. That’s what Jesus is doing in these words. In his own way he is ringing a bell. He is letting us know that we need to be ready for something far more important than getting our books packed for the next class. In John 5 we read: 25 Very truly I tell you, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son also to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.” (John 5:25–27 NIV11-GKE)


The hour has come. That’s what Jesus tells us. The hour has come for the dead to be clothed with flesh and blood. Any day now, indeed, any moment now, Jesus could come for Judgment Day. And on that day Jesus will give the dead life. And they will rise with brand new, perfect bodies. Most likely, this is not the first time you have heard this. But it is easy for us to fall into temptation when it comes to this fact. First, we can fall into temptation by forgetting this fact. When a person dies—whoever it is, there is this huge push and impulse to make everything better. And so, it is very easy for us to fall into the same pattern the world does when it comes to speaking about those who have died. It is easy to say, “They have gone to a better place.” But my dear friends in Christ, we know what that better place is. That better place is heaven. But maybe what is even easier to forget is that when that loved one who believes in Jesus dies they are with Jesus, but as Jesus reminds us here, that isn’t the end of the journey. On Judgment Day every believer will live. Each believer will get their bodies back. Yes, it’s true that when we die, as Christians, our souls return to our Creator. But our great temptation to sin is to forget what will happen to our bodies. At every committal service we say those words, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. We commit these earthly remains to the ground in the sure and certain hope of eternal life.” Notice the point: We get our bodies back.


What follows after this is the proof. How do we know that we will get our bodies back? What Jesus says here is a little shocking, if you think about it. We would have expected him to say that you can be sure that we will get our bodies back because the Son of God is in charge and in control. But that’s not what Jesus says. He says that God gave life to the Son. The Son gives life to whomever he wants. And the reason he can do this is that he is the Son of Man. In other words, every part of you and every particle in you Jesus will keep track of. And the reason he can keep track of humans so very well is that he is one. When you lay your loved one to rest in the ground there are those doubts and fears. But these words fill us with such comfort and hope. For that loved one who believed in Jesus will not only be with Jesus when he or she dies. That person will also be clothed with a brand new version of their body. And this is true and you can count on it because Jesus isn’t just the Son of God. He is also the son of Man.


The hour has come for us to recognize that the dead will live. We will live in heaven clothed with brand new bodies. But there’s more: 28 “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29 and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” (John 5:28–29 NIV11-GKE)


Every year on Holy Trinity Sunday we all say these words together: Those who have done good will enter eternal life, but those who have done evil will go into eternal fire. I remember a lady in a congregation I was in who flat out told me that she refused to say that part of the creed. All the rest of the creed was fine. But that part obviously was wrong. And she asked me how that error was allowed to stand there in the creed. I told her that if she had a problem with those words in the Athanasian Creed, then she would really have a problem with John 5. For here in these words Jesus says that those who do good will rise and live; and those who do evil will rise and be judged. How do we make sense of this, since we know that we cannot do good works to earn our way into heaven. First of all, we take scripture in context. Jesus says that those who do good will be in heaven. But notice what he doesn’t say. He does not say, how. How is it that a sinful person who comes into the world as an enemy of God can do good works? The answer is that each of us cannot. But what happens? Jesus comes to us through his word and creates faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith there is a new person inside of us alongside the old. And this new person does good works, not to get heaven, but instead, out of thankfulness because he already has heaven. As Jesus tells us in John 14, a good tree produces good fruit.


So, first, Christians are able to do good works. For Jesus has promised that we will be able to. But these good works don’t get us to heaven or any closer to heaven. That is Jesus’ work, not ours. But the second key to understanding these words is what Jesus says about unbelievers. Unbelievers too will rise on the last day. But they will rise to be judged, not to live in heaven. Why is this the case? They will rise to be judged because they practiced evil.1 Notice, a different word is used. It’s not “do” evil. Instead, it’s “practice” evil. They planned to sin. They wanted to sin. When they were given the opportunity to repent, they refused. Their sin had become their god, not the Son of Man.


By contrast then, this invites us to repent. This invites us to repent of the times we have forgotten that at any time Jesus could come to judge the living and the dead. This invites us to repent of the times we forgot that it’s not just our souls that will be with Jesus, but on Judgment Day, our bodies too will be reunited with our bodies forever.


The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect flesh and blood. And we have proof of this because Jesus, who was and is flesh and blood, will put every part and every particle back together on Judgment Day. And not only will we live clothed with perfect bodies. We will also live clothed with perfect works. What an amazing truth, that on Judgment Day Jesus will list and itemize all of the good works we have done. He was the one who died for our sins. He was the one who gave us faith to be able to do good works. He was the one who gave us so many choices in our lives to pick between one good work and another. And on the last day he will highlight them for the world to see. For all our sins will not only be forgiven. They will also be forgotten. The hour has come when the dead will live. We will live clothed with perfect bodies. And we will live clothed with perfect works. Amen.



1 “ⲡⲣⲁⲝⲁⲛⲧⲉⲥ” (John 5:29 GNT-ALEX)

How Long Will I Put Up With You? (Proper 27)

Faith

How Long Will I Put Up With You? (Proper 27)
Year B

 
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How Long Will I Put Up With You?


Satan works slowly. Years ago, In World War II, the Nazis trained men to be torturers. But how they did this was fascinating. If they wanted a guy to be a torturer, the first step was to just put the guy in the same building as the torturing. The next step was to have him sit outside the room where the torturing happened. The third step was to have him hand the tools to the torturer. The final step was to have him actually do the torturing. There are more happy ways to begin a sermon—I admit. But I hope my point is clear. Satan often works slowly. But not always. Sometimes he works fast and forcefully. Sometimes he uses the shock and awe approach. And in these words he uses the second tactic. With sudden shock he tries to dominate this world and everyone on it. And so, in Mark 9 we read: 14 When they came to the disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and scribes disputing with them. 15 When the whole crowd saw him, they were amazed and ran to greet him. 16 He asked them, “What are you arguing with them about?” 17 Someone from the crowd answered him, “Teacher, I brought my son to you. He has a spirit that makes him unable to speak. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams at the mouth, grinds his teeth, and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive it out, but they couldn’t.”” (Mark 9:14–18 CSB17)


Notice the force that Satan uses here. Mark isn’t the gospel writer to throw down one paragraph after another of details. Mark’s gospel is the shortest of all the gospels. But notice here he gives one detail after another of how forcefully and horribly Satan treated this man’s son with demons. The demon seizes him.1 It throws him down.2 It makes the boy foam at the mouth.3 It makes him grind his teeth.4 Finally then, it makes him paralyzed like a dry weed.5 Mark throws down all of these details to show us the force that Satan has and uses to intimidate people.


It was true then. It is true now. But, for us it’s perhaps and even sadder story. This man saw his son tormented by this demon for years. Today Satan often comes to us with weaker force, and we are tempted to give in. It happens in the science classroom when the teacher goes out of his way to find the kids who believe that God created the universe in 6, 24 hour days. And if the children do not give in and agree to what the teacher preaches about macro-evolution, then there is punishment. It happens at work when the boss or even co-workers say, “Do this or else you will lose your job.” Sad to say, it can even happen at Seminaries across our land. There’s a man I met who was going to a Seminary that held the name, “Lutheran”, but long ago abandoned what the bible taught. And he said that his advisor at the Seminary told him that if he held to saying that the bible was all true, then they would not let him graduate from that Seminary.


This is how Satan deals with us. Yes, he can give us the slow-boil treatment, slowly wearing us down. But, from these words, realize that he can also come at us with blunt force. How then does this father deal with the force that Satan uses? 19 He replied to them, “You unbelieving generation, how long will I be with you? How long must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” 20 So they brought the boy to him. When the spirit saw him, it immediately threw the boy into convulsions. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 “How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked his father. “From childhood,” he said. 22 “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:19–24 CSB17)


Notice that what followed Satan’s blunt force, was this man’s fear. And what flowed from this man’s fear was truly sinful and horrible. He spoke the word, “if” to Jesus. He said, “if you are able.” Jesus gets angry and speaks some very blunt words to him: ““‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”” (Mark 9:23 CSB17) Notice what this man’s fear had done to him. Just as Satan paralyzed the boy, this man’s fear paralyzed himself—even to the point that he would blame God for his own doubt. We don’t get to do that, do we? We don’t get to blame God for our own weak faith, do we? But it shows how Satan works. If we are strong in an area, all he does is shifts his attack to another area. If we are not afraid of what can happen to us, Satan makes us fear what can happen to us in the next life. If we are content about what will happen to us when we die, he plagues us with fears about this life. If we are content that God will take care of us when it comes to our role at work, then what does he do? He comes at us and after us, making us fear what happens at home while we are gone. And if we were strong and had an unfailing and unfaltering faith in all these areas today, all Satan would do is just wait till tomorrow comes. And so the father finally cries out in desperation the words of a true believer. He says: ““I do believe; help my unbelief!”” (Mark 9:24 CSB17) Each of us has a new person in us and an old person as a Christian. We believe in Jesus even though there are times we will not act like it.


Can you see now why Jesus with such sadness and sighing asks those two questions: How long will I be with you; How long will I put up with you? And he says that question not just to the father of that boy. He says those words to us today. How long will I put up with you? For there are times our trust in Jesus breaks with far less pressure than was put on this man. How long? In these final words, look at how Jesus answers that question: 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was quickly gathering, he rebuked the unclean spirit, saying to it, “You mute and deaf spirit, I command you: Come out of him and never enter him again.” 26 Then it came out, shrieking and throwing him into terrible convulsions. The boy became like a corpse, so that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus, taking him by the hand, raised him, and he stood up.” (Mark 9:25–27 CSB17)


Jesus asks the question. And the logical, common sense reaction Jesus should have had was to just walk away. They were acting like unbelievers. But Jesus doesn’t walk away. Instead he stays and heals the boy. And the reason he stays is that Jesus stays as long as Satan’s force is disarmed. Every now and then I watch old country western movies. And the old gun-slinger is fearful and terrifying as long as has enough ammo. But what happens when that fifth and final bullet leaves the chamber? Nobody’s afraid of the man anymore because he’s now a target, not a terror. The same is true with Satan. Jesus was aware of Satan’s power. But Jesus never gave into fear. And especially, he never gave into fear in the very specific way that this father and we are tempted to: we give into fear, doubt, and then blame God for it. No, Jesus always trusted in his Father’s promises.
But even more than that, Jesus died for our sins. Jesus died for the times we doubted when we knew better—and even those times when we might have blamed God for our doubting.


How long? That’s the question Jesus asks. How long will Jesus put up with us? The first answer is: as long as Satan is disarmed. But there is a second answer: as long as we cry out to Jesus in faith. My dear friends, look at this man. He flat-out says that he has unbelief. But then what does he do? He cries out to Jesus in faith. Learn from this man. When there are those times we are tested and tempted by Satan’s blunt force, cry out to Jesus for strength. But should our strength fail, and we give in to fear, even more so, cry out to Jesus. For just as he forgave this man, he will do so with you. And just as he strengthened this man’s faith, so he will do with you.


How long will I put up with you? As long as Satan’s force is disarmed. And as long as we cry out to him in faith. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲧⲁⲗⲁⲃⲏ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

2 ⲣⲏⲥⲥⲉⲓ

3 ⲁⲫⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓ

4 “ⲧⲣⲓⲍⲉⲓⲧⲟⲩⲥⲟⲇⲟⲛⲧⲁⲥ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

5 “ⲝⲏⲣⲉⲛⲉⲧⲁⲓ” (Mark 9:18 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 26—All Saints

I AM the Resurrection and the Life

Proper 26—All Saints
Year B

 
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Hold Onto The First Resurrection


Stand back a little. If ever you go to New York, it would be good to go the Metropolitan Museum of Art. And, if you look in the right place, you’ll find the impressionist art collection. And there you’ll see the paintings of Degas, Renoir and others. And what is amazing about their paintings is that, when you see them you’ll realize they aren’t made with brush strokes. No, instead, every face and every flower is made with little tiny dots. That’s impressive. In fact, it’s so impressive you can get pulled in to looking at the dots. But the problem with this is that when you look so close that all you see is dots you miss the picture and the point the painter was making. Reading this last book of Revelation is much like that. By God’s Holy Spirit, John speaks in beautiful word pictures. But the key to understanding these words is by keeping these words in context. So, in Revelation 20, we read: 1 And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. 2 He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. 3 He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:1–3 NIV11-GKE)


The Holy Spirit gives John a vision. And what does he see? He sees and angel chaining Satan for a thousand years. Now, notice how John speaks. First he says that there’s this angel who chains a dragon. Then John goes out of his way to tell us that he’s speaking figuratively. This is not a literal dragon with scales and wings. No, John tells us that this angel is Satan. John goes out of his way to tell us that he is speaking figuratively, painting word pictures to fill our imaginations. This is important to know because right after he says that there is this angel that ties and binds Satan we learn that the time-frame for Satan’s imprisonment is 1000 years. This is not a literal 1000 years. In Revelation 10 is the number for completeness. 10 x 10 x 10 then is super-duper completeness. What is this complete amount of time? It is the New Testament Age. It spans from Jesus’ ascension to Jesus return on Judgment Day.


I mention this because, if you look at these words like me looking at that painting too close you see dots, but not the meaning in context. There are many who get this wrong today. There are many who conclude that these words are speaking about Jesus coming down to earth and ruling here for a thousand years. But the words here are speaking are a word picture, speaking about the complete amount of time that Satan is tied up and tied down, under Jesus’ complete control.


But the other reason I mention this is what Jesus mentions at the end of verse three: 4 I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. 5 (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.)” (Revelation 20:4–5 NIV11-GKE)


At first John sees and angel chaining Satan. Next John sees souls sitting on thrones. Now here I’m going to do what I have never done before. I would like you to go home today and where is says, “Came to life”, instead, write the word, “lived.”1 You see, the point God is making here is not that Jesus is going to come down to earth and reign here and along with him disembodied souls are going to rise up like zombies in a bad Halloween movie. No, instead, John sees souls living and reigning with Jesus in heaven for 1000 years. And remember what that 1000 years is: the entire New Testament age.


What the Holy Spirit wants us to see in these words is the loved ones we had in this life who knew Jesus and died trusting in him. The Holy Spirit wants us to know that their faith was not in vain. For they live with Jesus in heaven. And even more than that, they rule with him in heaven. They are safe from all of this world’s harm and Satan’s lies.


These words are worthy especially on this day of thinking about and pondering. But as we do so we see that we face two real temptations in lives as Christians. First, There is the temptation to obsess over what we can see. Satan wants us to go to hell. And one of the ways he does this is by taking the good gifts that God gives to us and then make them into idols. You drive through the country side and you think to yourself, “it’d be nice to have a home on the lake.” The challenge and temptation though is that Satan wants us to absorb ourselves in that home on the lake so much that we forget that, at any moment, that home and the lake could go up in flames on Judgment Day. We could say the same about our bodies. God wants us to care for them. But if we spend so much time counting lbs and calories that we forget that, at any moment, like these souls that John sees, we could have our souls ripped from our bodies in death, then we are sinning by losing sight of our heavenly goal.


But the same is true on the opposite side. Just as there is the temptation to obsess over what we can see, there is the temptation to obsess over what we cannot. This happens when we lose a loved one through death. That person was a part of our life. They worshipped with us, maybe even here in our church. But then what happened? They died and they are now with the Lord. And when that happens, it can be ever so tempting to ask the question, “Why am I still here?” And if that is given room in your heart you can easily end up saying “there’s no point in me living anymore.” And so, one temptation is idolatry. but this temptation is despair. Since our loved one is not with us anymore we want to give up running our race here with perseverance.


And so, Satan that ancient dragon really exists. And he really tempts us to sin. What is the solution to this ancient enemy? In our closing words, we read: 5 This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:5–6 NIV11-GKE)


If Satan is so good at tempting us either to idolatry or to despair, then who can stand up to him? Not you. Not me. No, instead, the one who stood up to him is Jesus. Jesus was tempted in every way just as we are, but never gave into Satan’s lies. And Jesus paid for our sins of idolatry and despair on the cross. But he did still more. He gave us the promise that if you have the first resurrection then you will have the second too. What is he talking about? The first resurrection is unbelief.2 God raised you from the dead in those waters of baptism and gave you the gift of faith. And if you have this gift of faith (and you do), then the second death (physical death) will have no hold on you when you die.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, you have this first resurrection, faith in Christ. Now what should you do with it? Hold onto it. Read your bibles. Come to bible study here after our worship time. Grow in your faith. And as you do this the most wondrous change will happen. When you’re doing those sit-ups at the gym or you’re taking the dock out of the lake you can appreciate the gifts God has given you now, but yearn—yearn for the better life God has waiting for you—a life where you will see those who have gone before you in to heaven. And even more, you will see Jesus face to face. Hold onto the first resurrection. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲍⲏⲥⲁⲛ” (Revelation 20:4 GNT-ALEX)

2 cf. Ephesians 2

Proper 24

10 Commandments

Proper 24
Year B

 
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What If You Tested The Teacher?


Let’s test the teacher. Years ago, when I was at Martin Luther College, we had to learn our languages by memorizing them. And let’s face it, it’s not easy to make memorization fun. Sometimes memorization is just plain hard work. Our greek professor told us that the key to making it easier was to memorize all the time. He told us, “I should be able to call you on the phone at 2 AM and ask you what the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ are, and yo u should be able to rattle them off without thinking and then go back to sleep.” Well one night, one of my classmates had an idea. He thought to himself: let’s test the teacher. So he waited till ab0ut 2 or 3 in the morning on a Friday night and then called our Greek professor on the phone. The professor answered. And the student said, “Give me the principal parts of ⲃⲁⲗⲗⲱ, now!” The professor laughed and, from memory, rattled off the proper answer. Then he said, “Peter, I will find you and get you back.” (His name wasn’t Peter.) There are those times we wonder, what if I tested the teacher. That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. These words are spoken on Holy Week. Jesus has just been tested by the Pharisees about marriage and divorce. And he told them, “Give to Cæsar what is Cæsar’s.” He is tested by the Sadducees letting them know that marriage is for this life and our resurrections are in the next life. And there’s this expert in the law who sees all of this and is amazed. And he is so amazed that he can’t help himself from testing Jesus. And so, in Mark 12, we read: 28 One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” 29 “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 32 “Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”” (Mark 12:28–33 NIV11-GKE)


After all the testing and trapping is done, a man, an expert in God’s word steps forward. And he asks him the simple, but extremely important question, “out of all the commandments, which one is the first, the most important?” And notice what happens. When a teacher tests the Teacher, The teacher, Jesus, answers his question. The heart and soul; the height and depth of the commandments is love—for your neighbor beside you, for you Lord above you. And the man essentially repeats what Jesus said. He tells Jesus that loving your neighbor and your God is better than piling up sacrifices to the Lord.


This man was amazing. Because as he studied and studied God’s word he avoided the traps that others fell into. He avoided the trap that says that God doesn’t care about the commandments. That’s the trap the Sadducees fell into. That’s the view of the commandments that God is nice, and God is good. So then we can do as much bad as we want. He avoided that trap. He avoided the trap of carelessness with the commandments. He also avoided the trap of being coerced by the commandments. This is the trap that says, “I’ll do it, but I won’t like it. And as soon as you’re gone, I’ll stop doing it.” He avoided the trap of carelessness and the trap of coercion. And finally, he avoided the trap of being consumed by the commandments. This is the view of the commandments that says, “You say, ‘jump’, I say, ‘how high?’” There’s a reason our church body has been against the Boy Scouts for more than 50 years now. The first reason is that it blobs all religions and all denominations into the same category and says they all go to heaven. But the second reason is found here. They teach about the commandments in such a way that a person is consumed with them. They teach a boy to be kind and nice to his neighbor not because that person is a person, but instead, as a tool to please God and earn their way into heaven.


This man avoided all these traps. He avoided carelessness with the commandments, being coerced by them and also being consumed by them. And, after all of his continual studying, what he found was that the heart of the commandments was love—first for God, then for the neighbor. And you have to look at him and realize how alone he was. He got it. He understood that the heart of the commandments was love. But, on the one side, he had the Sadducees who didn’t care about the commandments. And on the other side, he had the Pharisees, who were consumed by them. And then he heard Jesus speak the beautiful truth that the heart of the commandments was love. Oh how refreshing and amazing it was to hear this from Jesus. So he had to test Jesus. And how thankful he must have been to have Jesus answer his question. But, my friends in Christ, Jesus didn’t stop here. He didn’t just answer the question. He also then, right after that, questioned this man’s answer. We read: “When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:34 NIV11-GKE)


There’s the old saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades.” There is a difference between being “close” to the kingdom of God and actually being “in” the kingdom. This expert avoided so many traps. And yet he fell into a trap that was just as bad as all the others. Yes, it’s true that the heart and soul of the commandments is love. But he never stopped to ask another important question: Can I actually keep these commandments? You see, the problem isn’t with the commandments. The problem is with us. WE cannot keep them. And so this man might have been expecting a pat on the back, a “Well done” comment from Jesus. But instead, he let the expert know that he still was not in the kingdom of God.


So what if you tested the teacher…what would happen? The teacher would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. But finally, he would give the only answer to the real question. Love is what God commands and demands in the commandments. And Jesus is the only one who not just knew what the heart and soul of the commandments was but actually did it. Jesus was not careless with the commandments. He kept them. Jesus was not coerced to do the commandments. He did them freely. Jesus was not consumed by the commandments, making his fellow humans tools to please his Father in heaven. No, he actually, really and truly loved those around him. And the hugest example of this is what happened only a few days after the expert in the law tested the teacher. Jesus died. He died to pay for all bad traps we fall into today and they did in Jesus’ day. He loved perfectly both us and his Father in our place.


And with that fact we know our sins are forgiven—even all the lies and traps we tell ourselves about the commandments. But he does so much more than that. The perfect and complete love that he had for his Father and his fellow humans he gives to us. Through his word he created faith in our hearts. And with this gift of faith he gave us another, new nature to wage war against the old one. And this new nature is actually able to love without carelessness and without being coerced and without being consumed by the law, making people into tools. In short, what John says elsewhere is so very true: “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19 NIV)


So what if…? What if you tested the teacher? What would he do? He would answer your question. Then he would question your answer. Finally, he would give you the real answer to the real question. Amen.


Proper 23

Faith

Proper 23
Year B

 
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What Do You Want Me To Do For You?


What do you want? There once was a teacher who had a classroom. And she cared. She cared about the topic she was teaching. She cared about her students. But, early on in the class, there was a student that whenever she would say something, he would lean over talk to the person beside him. Hour after hour, week after week this would happen. While she was teaching, he was talking. Finally she couldn’t take it anymore. And she told the young man, What do you want? He looked up at her and said, “I want to hear what you’re saying. And with this loud heating vent right beside me I can’t hear anything.” Very quickly she realized that he was not speaking out of disrespect, but instead, just the opposite, a hunger to learn and pay attention. This morning we meet a man who is talking. And he’s talking at the very same time Jesus is teaching. In Mark 10, we read: 46 They came to Jericho. And as he was leaving Jericho with his disciples and a large crowd, Bartimaeus (the son of Timaeus), a blind beggar, was sitting by the road. 47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”” (Mark 10:46–47 CSB17)


This morning, in your brains, walk with Jesus. There you are walking with Jesus and what is he doing? He is teaching and teaching and teaching. And then, off in the distance, what happens? There’s this guy on the side of the road who keeps crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” If you were the teacher, how long would you put up with this? There that guy is, shouting those words, and he won’t shut up. Well, since Jesus didn’t tell the man to shut up, the people took the matter into their own hands. We read: “Many warned him to keep quiet, but he was crying out all the more, “Have mercy on me, Son of David!”” (Mark 10:48 CSB17)


He is told to shut up by many people, but instead of shutting up, he shouts the same words over and over again. So what happens next? 49 Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” So they called the blind man and said to him, “Have courage! Get up; he’s calling for you.” 50 He threw off his coat, jumped up, and came to Jesus. 51 Then Jesus answered him, “What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:49–51 CSB17)


Jesus is still a little ways away. So he tells those who are near the man to summon him over. Here too, this is something to picture. Picture the blind man stand up, throw off his outer cloak and stumble toward Jesus. And when he gets close to Jesus, Jesus asks him that question, ““What do you want me to do for you?”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17) Now, my dear friends in Christ, we might ask the question, ‘why did Jesus ask such a foolish question?’ The guy has been sitting there shouting for a long time what he wanted. Everybody knows what the blind man wants. But you’re forgetting one simple fact: this man cannot see. Facial expression, body language—all of that is useless to this man. So Jesus asks him the simple, but all-important question: What do you want me to do for you? Bartimaeus answers: ““Rabboni,” the blind man said to him, “I want to see.”” (Mark 10:51 CSB17)


Now notice what happens next. Jesus does not say, “I am good and gracious, so I can’t stop myself from healing you.” Instead, this is what he says: ““Go, your faith has saved you.”” (Mark 10:52 CSB17) Now my dear friends in Christ, these are some very important and impressive words that Jesus speaks. Jesus did not have to heal this man that day. In fact, there were times when Jesus did not heal people at all. Earlier on in Mark’s Gospel Jesus preaches in his hometown. And at the end of the day, we read these words: 4 Jesus said to them, “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 And he was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:4–6 NIV)


Jesus did not have to heal blind Bartimaeus. But he did. He tells Bartimaeus that his faith is what counted. All false teaching is a confusion of cause and effect. In other words, Jesus does not perform miracles so that people might have faith in him. Instead, he gives them faith so that they would know him and then appreciate the miracle. Jesus could have said “no.” But this man was given a living, active, powerful faith. And we see it by the names that he calls Jesus. If you’re going to play it safe, what do you call Jesus? You call him, “teacher.” Everyone else did. But this man didn’t. He cried out and shouted out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The title, “Son of David” was a very powerful one. It was one of those parts of the Old Testament that shouted out and cried out that the savior and messiah would be both God and man.


What if, my dear friends, what if you were blind and could no longer see? What if Jesus asked you that simple question, what would you say? What would you like me to do for you? I don’t know about you, but I might say, “What took you so long?” I might pray “O Lord, heal my body, but who really cares about my soul?” But look at blind Bartimaeus. He calls Jesus who he is, both God and man. Here is a man who knows that Jesus is his Savior. So when he says, “I want to see,” there’s more going on. As one pastor once said, even though he has no eyesight, he has so very much insight.


And what Jesus says about us, we pray for ourselves. Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” And first of all, our prayer is that, like this blind man, he would give us faith to find him in the darkness. How many long months and years did this man wait for the Son of David to arrive? And when the Son of David came he neither hurled rocks nor insults at him. My dear friends, there will be those times when the waiting will wear you down. When you get hurt, you need time to heal. And the same is true not just for our bodies, but also for our souls. And we sin when we either give up on the Son of David or even worse, blame him. But Jesus does the same for us as he does for this man. First, he does not assume anything. How thankful we are that we do not have to trust in facial expressions, hand gestures or body language when it comes to our Savior. He is just as clear with us as he was with this man. Second, he forgives us. He forgives us by being perfectly patient in our place. He forgives us by being treated like the son of hell in our place instead of the Son of David. He does all this so that, like this Bartimaeus, we would know that our sins are forgiven and then find him in the darkness.


That, my friends, is our prayer, that we too would find the Son of David in the darkness. But if Jesus asks us that question, let us also have another prayer. Let us pray that he would also give us such a strong faith as this blind man so that would follow Jesus in the light. In the final words of this part of the bible, we read: “Jesus said to him, “Go, your faith has saved you.” Immediately he could see and began to follow Jesus on the road.” (Mark 10:52 CSB17)


Do you remember what happened at a different time, when Jesus healed the ten lepers? We read those words on every Thanksgiving Eve. Jesus heals ten lepers and then how many come back to thank him? There was only one—one! This man is healed. And does he run home to his missed friends and treasured family? No, in joyous faith, he follows. That is our prayer too. There will be those times when the Lord answers our prayer—when he takes away a pain, pressure or disease. And our knee-jerk reaction will be to forget him. But the Son of David doesn’t just forgive our sins. He also gives us the Holy Spirit to follow him and live for him. And with that new person placed in us through water and word instead of forgetting Jesus, we follow him.


What do you want me to do for you? That is the question that the Son of David asked blind Bartimaeus. He still asks that same question of all of us today. And our prayer is that he would give us the same strong faith as Bartimaeus. We pray that he would give us faith to find Jesus in the darkness and follow him in the light. That is our prayer. And the Son of David will answer it. Amen.


Proper 22

Children

Proper 22
Year B

 
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God Made Them Male And Female


Simple truths are often the best truths. Years ago there was a new pastor. He was an intelligent man. And he had gone to school for years to become a pastor. One day, a member in his congregation had him over to his house. He told him, “You’re preaching way up here; you need to bring it way down here.” Often the simple truths are the best truths. When we go back and look at Jesus teaching and preaching, so very often he shuts down his opposition not with huge five-syllable words, but instead with simple statements. In Mark 10, we read: 2 Some Pharisees came and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” 3 “What did Moses command you?” he replied. 4 They said, “Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce and send her away.” 5 “It was because your hearts were hard that Moses wrote you this law,” Jesus replied. 6 “But at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.” (Mark 10:2–6 NIV11-GKE)


The Pharisees came and asked Jesus a question—but not to learn from him. Instead, they asked the question to test him and tear him down. The question was about divorce. Notice Jesus’ answer. It was not a long theological lecture. It was with quick, simple statements that Jesus answered. He told them that at the beginning God made them male and female. Before anyone speaks about marriage, divorce and remarriage and all the other issues one could bring up, there is the simple, solid truth we need to understand and build on: God made them male and female. For ever since the fall into sin, every human being has been busy denying that basic truth. 50 years ago the sinful world abused that truth by overemphasizing it. On the internet now, there are massive archives of advertisements from that time. And, if you read them, you’ll see that you aren’t really a man unless you can rebuilt your car from scratch and do 100 push-ups. And you aren’t really a woman unless you can bake a cake from scratch while wearing a pretty dress and keeping it spotless at the same time. And there are worse examples of this. But today the pendulum has swung the entire opposite direction today. If there was an over-emphasis on male and female (in an often abusive way), then today, there is an under-emphasis. Consider this guideline from the Minneapolis public school website:


Gender is often used as a classification for dividing classes, prerequisites for participation, or access to facilities such as locker rooms and bathrooms. Advoid using gender as a characteristic for division whenever possible. Create an all gender option for facilities and allow student to self-select to the group they would feel most comfortable in.1


Notice the point that they are making on the site: First, there are more than two genders. There is not just male and female. There are more options out there. Second, according to them, you choose your gender. If you choose to be a boy for a while, everyone has to endorse that. If you then choose to go back to being a girl, then the world has to recognize and affirm that choice. But these words are so very clear, aren’t they? God made them male and female.


Why can’t people get this straight? Why 50 years ago did people over-emphasize male and female to the point of abuse? And why today do people under-emphasize this simple truth to the point of absurdity? The answer is simple: People often listen to what is popular.


We too face the same temptation. It is popular today to conclude that you can choose to be either male or female or even a third self-defined category. And it’s easy for us to conclude that that’s the truth for one simple reason: that conclusion is popular. But it’s not the truth. Jesus says it so simply and clearly. At the beginning, God made them male and female.


And what follows is the answer to the question, why: 7 ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, 8 and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. 9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” 10 When they were in the house again, the disciples asked Jesus about this. 11 He answered, “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. 12 And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.”” (Mark 10:7–12 NIV11-GKE)


Why did God make them male and female? He made us male and female so that they would be one. The general path laid out for us is that boys and girls grow up to be men and women. And one man and one woman marries each other. They become one. Now notice what Jesus is not saying in these words. My spouse is not my soulmate. And my spouse is not my savior. Instead, my spouse is a gift to me as a treasured friend and companion for this life and for this life alone.


My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, look at all the traps—all the ways we can sin by not getting this straight in our own minds. We can abusively over-emphasize this truth. We can under-estimate this truth along with the rest of so many today, denying that God is the one who made us male and female. And even when we get married we can sin by making our spouse our soul-mate and even worse, our Savior.


But look what Jesus does. First, Jesus understands perfectly what male and female means. And then he treats them perfectly as they are, male and female. And he does this in our place. Second, he dies and pays for those sins on the cross. For those times I abusively over-emphasize or absurdly under-emphasize them, Jesus pays for them. For the times I forget that my spouse is a companion, not a soul-mate and savior, Jesus paid for those sins.


So Jesus made us male and female first of all, so that male and female would be one in marriage. But, as we read these words we see there is another reason he made us male and female: 13 People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. 15 Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them.” (Mark 10:13–16 NIV11-GKE)


He made us male and female so that we would be one. But he also made us male and female so that in marriage we would bring many into this world. Now here is where we need to be careful. For here is where I have people usually throw down objections. So let’s deal with them right here. On the one hand, there possibly some proper objections to having children. If financially, you have severe problems supporting two people, adding more into the family might be a real reason. If you biologically cannot have children, that too is a real reason. And there might be others.


But there other improper objections. And let me speak about two this morning: Selfishness and fearfulness. It is an ever-present temptation to not have children because life would not be as comfortable as it is now. Children take away your money. Children take away your time. And so, if you look at so many cities across our nation what you will find is young married men and women who choose to have a dog instead of children. But there is another reason too: fearfullness. The idea of starting a family is terrifying. There is the real fear of messing up. What happens if the child dies, either at our hand or by others? What happens if that child grows up and leaves the Christian church? I had all of these fears and I had a good, solid example of what marriage should look like since I had a mom and dad all my life. How much worse and more fearful this is if a husband and wife were missing a mom or dad as they grew up.


Look at what our Savior does. First, he speaks a command: Let them come to me. Second, he speaks a promise: The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. If Jesus goes out of his way with both a command and promise to tell you how much he cares for children, won’t he also take care of you as you take care of them? When you mess up and sin (and you will!), won’t he forgive you? Won’t he teach you what it is to be a father and mother through his word? And won’t he remind you that, at the end of the day, these children are cared for by you but they don’t belong to you. They belong to our Lord and Savior Jesus.


And so, always remember the foundation: God made us male and female. He made us male and female to be one and to bring many. Amen.



1 Policies Supporting ALL Genders

Proper 21

Lamb of God

Proper 21
Year B

 
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Why This Waste?


What does waste look like? Several weeks ago, I saw a mom walking down the street with her little boy. It was a busy street. And, as you might expect, there were objects that people dropped along the way on the ground. As they were walking down the road the boy stopped, reached down and picked up a piece of candy and ate it. The mom had to stop what she was doing and evaluate what was going on when there was a tug on her arm when the boy stopped. And before she could stop him the candy went into his mouth—dirt and all. This then began the lecture and lesson on why it was bad and wrong to put food that was on the ground in your mouth. And after a very clear, logical presentation of the facts, she said, “So don’t put candy that is on the ground into your mouth.” But I looked at his face. And every detail of his face cried out, “what a waste!” There’s this perfectly good piece of candy on the ground that was just going to waste if he didn’t eat it. And this makes us ask the question: what does waste look like? That’s the context we find ourselves in this morning. In Mark 14, we read: 3 While he was in Bethany at the house of Simon the leper, as he was reclining at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured it on his head. 4 But some were expressing indignation to one another: “Why has this perfume been wasted? 5 For this perfume might have been sold for more than three hundred denarii and given to the poor.” And they began to scold her.” (Mark 14:3–5 CSB17)


What a waste! That’s what all the people said. How much of a waste was this? Perfume—good perfume was expensive. This little jar of perfume was a little less then a year’s wages. Think of one bottle of perfume that was worth a year of your wages. And what does this woman do? She breaks it. With an item that precious you want to make it last and stretch it out. That’s not what this woman did. She broke the container and let the perfume flow over Jesus’ head and the fragrance fill the room. And so the people cry 0ut: “why this waste?” She could have stretched this perfume out. She could have sold it and given the money to the poor. But Jesus’ reaction to what she had done was totally different. They say, “look at the waste.” Jesus, instead, has us look at this woman: 6 Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a noble thing for me. 7 You always have the poor with you, and you can do what is good for them whenever you want, but you do not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body in advance for burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in memory of her.”” (Mark 14:6–9 CSB17)


The first detail that Jesus tells us about this woman is that what she as done was noble and beautiful.1 What she did was noble and beautiful for two reasons: first, they would always be able to worship Jesus by helping out the poor, but they wouldn’t always have Jesus around, face to face, as he was at that time. Second, What she was doing was driven by why she was doing this. She was pouring perfume over his head to prepare for his burial.2 she was pouring perfume over his head to show that she understood what all the others in this room didn’t, that Jesus was going to die. The fact that Jesus was going to die drove her to consider many other details before she walked into that room with that jar of perfume. First, she considered her sin, how real and true her sin was. Second, she saw her own inability to pay for her sins. Third, she saw that, in order to pay for her sin, Jesus could not just dump a large pot of money into the temple treasury to pay for her sin. Her sin was so bad that the only price that could pay for her sin was the death of the sinless Son of God. All of that then drove her to ask the question: why this waste? But she did not ask this question in her soul about the perfume. No, instead she asked this question about herself. What a waste it would be to pay with your own life to redeem a person who would sin after you paid for her life just as much as before. And yet that’s exactly what Jesus did for her.


My dear friends in Christ, look at this woman. For we too could ask the same question: not ‘why this waste’ when it comes to perfume poured on Jesus’ head; no instead, we ask ‘why this waste’ when it comes to us and Jesus paying for us. The people in that room had an excuse. They had not seen Jesus die on Good Friday and rise on Easter. But, through God’s word, we have. And yet our great sin is that we so easily forget the price that Jesus paid. And we show it by going out and doing the very sins that Jesus paid to free us from. And so we lie, we cheat, we steal, we lust, we hate. Look at this woman for she saw a Savior’s love that filled her with awe and appreciation enough to break this jar and pour out this perfume on his head. And her Savior’s death on the cross wasn’t just enough to pay for her sins. That price was big enough to pay the world’s sins. That means your sins and my sins too.


Why this waste? From every true and realistic point of view the price that Jesus paid for us was a waste. But Jesus did it anyway, making it valid, true, and full of worth. And so, we might start out asking, ‘why this waste?’ But this morning we end up asking, ‘why this act of worship?’ It was not enough for her to use cheap perfume to prepare for Jesus’ burial. And it was not enough to use a little perfume. She gave Jesus her best in worship purely out of thanks. And the same is true for us. Today Christians give their best to their Savior purely out of thanks.


Now, for the time that remains here this morning, please let me give you two examples of what this looks like. The first is an example of what giving our best does not look like. Years ago there was a grandma. She had a piano in her house. Her children and their children had learned to play the piano on that piano. But now some keys would not depress and some strings were broken. She called Goodwill to see if they would come over and take it. They told her that unless it was in good, working condition, they would not take it. So what did she do? She called her sons and had them come over, put the piano in the back of the truck and then dump it off over at church. That, my dear friends in Christ, is junk for Jesus. That is not our best.


The second example is just the opposite. In my last congregation we wanted to have a processional cross. The processional cross is what we use at Palm Sunday and Good Friday. It is a way of picturing our Savior, who he is and what he has done for us. So I asked one of my elders to look into getting us a processional cross. In the worship books it gave this description: you could take the Christmas tree, and cut it up and then strap together two branches, making a processional cross. Months later, he showed up with this large, beautiful cross I had never seen before made of oak. And he told me, “Pastor, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t tie together two branches and pretend that that was worthy of our Lord. I wanted to give my best.” And so he did. And it still stands there in that church as an example of giving our best to our Savior Jesus, purely out of thanks.


I use both of these as examples for each of you. Each of you has gifts, skill, talents and abilities that God has given to you. And like this woman, we give our best to Jesus to worship him and thank him.


And so, we start out asking, “why this waste?” Why would Jesus waste his life to pay for my sins? And when we see his great and undeserved love for us we begin to ask a different question: “why this worship?” We give our best to Jesus purely out of thanks to him. Amen.



1 “ⲕⲁⲗⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:6 GNT-ALEX)

2 “ⲉⲓⲥⲧⲟ ̄ ⲉⲛⲧⲁⲫⲓⲁⲥⲙⲟⲛ” (Mark 14:8 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 19

denarius

Proper 19
Year B

 
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What Drives Our Giving?


People are fascinating. When I first started High School, we had to take fine arts classes. So I signed up for drama classes. And one of the first homework assignments I had was to go out somewhere and study someone so that we could act and pretend to be that person for a minute or two. So that’s what I did. I went across the street from our home to the grade school. I took out a notebook and a pen and studied the children. And there was this boy who began to tie his shoes. But half way through he realized that it was work to tie his shoes. So he put on the saddest face—the sort of face that makes mom’s sigh and dads act. And then he said, “Teacher, I need help.” And as the teacher kneeled down and tied his shoe for him, this smug, self-contented smile spread across his face, as if to say, “Life is good. My mom makes me tie my shoes at home. But I just successfully trained my teacher to tie my shoes at school. Life is good.” I walked home after that thinking to myself one thought: people are fascinating. But I was not the only one who thought that people were fascinating. Jesus too thought that people were fascinating too. And they were so fascinating that they were worthy of time to observe and study. And in our gospel for this morning that’s exactly what Jesus does. In Mark 12, we read: “Sitting across from the temple treasury, he watched how the crowd dropped money into the treasury.” (Mark 12:41 CSB17)


As we read these words, it’s important to see the setting. It’s Holy Week. Jesus is in the temple area. He has just answered every tough question brought to him. And now no one is coming forward to test and challenge him. And so, for a rare moment in time, he has spare time. But he doesn’t let it go to waste. He sits down. Then he stares at and studies the people in the temple because they are fascinating to him.1 And as he does this, what is it that he sees? 41 Many rich people were putting in large sums. 42 Then a poor widow came and dropped in two tiny coins worth very little.” (Mark 12:41–42 CSB17)


What Jesus sees first is crowds of people coming up and dropping their offering into the temple treasury. But then, as time goes by, he sees more. He sees how there were many rich people who stopped by and dropped large sums of money into the treasury. This is a reminder for us that in those days there was no such thing as a check or credit card. If you had masses of money you had to carry it. One of the parts of the Old Testament that I thought was funny when I first read it was the description of Abraham. In our english versions it just says that Abraham was “rich” in gold and silver. But in the Hebrew it says that he was weighed down with gold and silver.2(Genesis 13:2 BHS-T)}} If you were rich, it was hard to hide it. Everyone could see the masses of money that these rich people brought because they had to carry them. Or, to be more specific, they had people to carry them. And as all of this happens, Jesus is just sitting there. But then there is this change in Jesus. And we hear about this in the verses which follow: “Summoning his disciples, he said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” (Mark 12:43 CSB17)


So Jesus is sitting there watching one person after another. But then he sees someone get in line. And what he sees fascinates him. He sees one woman. He does not see teams and groups of people, as with the rich people. And he sees that she is a widow. There is no husband to go with her and support her. And then the final detail we learn about her is that she is poor. There was no trust-fund for her or life insurance. Her income died with her husband. Jesus sees her and studies her. In fact she is so fascinating to him that he calls his disciples over to him. And he tells them all that this one woman gave more than all the others who showed up that day. And then he tells them why this was true: “For they all gave out of their surplus, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had—all she had to live on.”” (Mark 12:44 CSB17)


Notice the contrast Jesus sees. On the one hand, what drove all these people to give was the fact that they had enough if not even more than enough. And because they had enough, they could give some to the Lord. But just the opposite was true with this poor, lonely widow. What drove her to give was her lack. She did not have a husband. She did not have and income. And with that lack she arrived at a conclusion: “I can do no nothing because I have nothing.” And that was what fascinated Jesus. For from that conclusion she arrived at an even more important conclusion: “Since I can do nothing, the Lord will have to do everything. He will have to be the one who will save me from sin and from starvation.” And from this conclusion she arrived at a final conclusion: “since the Lord will provide for me, I can give freely and joyfully to him.” And so she did.


Joy in Christ—that’s what drove her giving. But for us here today, what is it that drives our giving? Here is where we face two temptations: first, our temptation is to give out of apathy and peer-pressure. After the sermon ends and it’s time for the offering we look around and all the other people are giving. I guess I should. And so, without much thinking and pondering we put our money in the plate. That’s one temptation. But the other temptation is just as bad. The second temptation is to give out of panic and desperation. We publish these numbers in our bulletin every week. And if we don’t understand them properly, we they can lead us to sin. If I see a negative number here in the bulletin, it’s so easy to conclude, “I have to give because if I don’t this church might close down.” And that’s not true at all. I’ve been in many congregations over the years and what causes churches to close down is a lack of love for God’s word, not a lack of money. The lack of money is an effect, not a cause. In one of the churches I served in, there was a guy who bought into a false teaching. And when our congregation refused to give into that false teaching he left. And he left with a strange sort of glee. You see, he was a very generous giver to the church—and everyone knew it. And, with glee, he left the church, expecting it to fold because he was no longer there. But the church didn’t collapse. In fact, it grew. It was a powerful reminder that that church belonged to Jesus. He died for those people. He gave them faith. He gave them their daily bread. And our great trap is to either care too little about our offerings (apathy) or to care too much (panic and desperation).


Those are our temptations. But what is the truth we see in these words? Just look at that widow. Did Jesus rescue her from her sin? And there’s the amazing part: we find no hint that she even knew he was there. But she knew her good and gracious Lord would forgive her sins. And the same is true for us. And did Jesus rescue her from her starvation? Year after year we walk through these words in catechism class. And I ask the kids: “So, do you think that this widow put her coins in the box and then went home and died of starvation.” And, in all my years of asking that question, they all had the same answer: “no.” They knew that the same Savior, Jesus, who died for us will also provide for us.


So where does that leave us this morning? That leaves us in the same place as this one poor widow. What drives us to give is our great joy in Christ. And what this joy in Christ drives us to do is to give freely. So when we get to that part when I say, “We continue with our thank-offering,” care about that money that you put in that offering plate. But do not let your care be driven by pressure or panic. Give freely, out of joy in Christ. Amen.



1 “ⲉⲑⲉⲱⲣⲉⲓ” (Mark 12:41 GNT-ALEX)

2 ”וְאַבְרָ֖ם כָּבֵ֣ד מְאֹ֑ד בַּמִּקְנֶ֕ה בַּכֶּ֖סֶף וּבַזָּהָֽב׃“

Joy In Christ Starts In The Word

denarius

Joy In Christ Starts In The Word
Year B

 
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Why Should I Come To Class?


Why do we make promises? Our family is in the process of buying a house. And what shocked me was how many promises you have to make. They aren’t verbal promises. Instead, they are written promises that you have to sign your name to. And all that signing got me thinking: why do we make promises? And the conclusion I reached was that we make promises because these are what we want to understand, remember and do. The Christian church makes promises too. This weekend I had the privilege of baptizing a child. And after the child was baptized, the parents made this promise:


Brothers and sisters in Christ, our Lord commands that we teach his precious truths to all who are baptized. Christian love therefore urges all of us, especially parents and sponsors, to assist in whatever manner possible so that [name] may remain a child of God until death. If you are willing to carry out this responsibility, then answer: Yes, as God gives me strength.


And the family agreed to do this. In fact, I’ve had many baptisms of children and for all of them the parents have agreed to this promise. Christians make promises. When I first arrived here, on the night I was installed, I made a promise to preach and teach in line with what God’s word spoke. But I wasn’t the only one who made a promise. You too made a promise. Here are the words that you promised to carry out:


Help [your pastor] by your word and example in teaching the young, remembering how the Scriptures urge you to bring up your children in the training and instruction of the Lord.


And when Pastor Schmiel asked, “are you willing,” you said, “We will, and we ask God to help us.” The problem with promises though, is that it is easy to forget them. And so, the parent who promises to teach the child that was just baptized God’s word then, years later, brings the child to catechism class. And I ask the child the simple question, “Who is Moses?” And the child says nothing. And the child says nothing because that is what the child knows about Moses. The parents broke their promise to teach their children God’s word. And I, the pastor, am left in this strange place where I have to somehow catch up ten years of teaching in two.


But it’s not just parents who fall into this trap. The rest of the congregation can fall into this trap. When the pastor is installed, they promise to teach and to set a good example. But what happens after that is often the opposite of a good example. Put yourselves in the shoes of a child for a moment. A child comes to church and sits in these pews and is surrounded by people. But then what happens? The child goes downstairs for Sunday School. And when the class is done, that child comes back up the stairs and looks into the fireside room. And what does he or she see? The child sees not almost a hundred people as there was for worship, but instead, about ten. That math teaches a lesson and preaches a sermon. It teaches a child that learning, studying and growing in God’s word is only for children.
And so, the grown-ups teach the opposite of what they promised when they installed a pastor.


And my dear friends in Christ, broken promises carry consequences with them. What happens to a child that is taught by your actions that studying God’s word with a teacher is only for children? Instead of learning to hate hypocrisy, they learn to love it. They learn that when they are confirmed they can replace bible study class with whatever they want—because, after all, that’s what the grown-ups do. I’ve heard many grown-ups in our congregation express with such sad words how many people are confirmed here and then grow up and do not stay. And much of the blame for that is on their shoulders. But do realize, part of the blame is on yours too. For what I’ve found is that the vast majority of those who complain that children grow up and do not know God’s word anymore are the same grown-ups who do not come to bible study class to continue to learn about the Lord.


It is wrong to teach our children that hypocrisy is ok. But the other consequence of this is that it makes a pastor’s ministry into misery. I was talking to a guy a couple of weeks ago who got a new job because he thought it would use the gifts he had. But when when he arrived at work, they changed his job description. And now his work is frustrating. From God’s word, your pastor’s job description is simple: preach, teach, and visit. Put yourself in your pastor’s shoes for a moment. What do you think it would be like to come to a new congregation as a pastor, thinking that they want, really want, to study, learn and grow in God’s word, and then, week after week, month after month, what you are shown is that the opposite is true? A pastor’s ministry can quickly become misery.


We make promises. We make them so that we understand them, remember them and do them. But all of us break these promises. So what do we do about this? Do we live in the darkness, pretending it’s ok to act in hypocritical ways, teaching another generation that it’s ok to not learn and grow in God’s word? No, we repent of them. We go to the same place where every other sinner since the fall into sin has gone. We go back to God’s word and there find Jesus. And in our gospel for this morning that’s what Matthew found. And for the rest of this time, I’m going to tell you about Jesus, our Savior from our sin. But I’m going to do it in a different way. I’m going to teach it to you as if you were my catechism class. So, please, this morning, pretend that you are 12-14 years old. And it goes like this: Children, today we get to learn about a man named, Matthew. Open up to Mark, chapter 2. And I want us all to read together verses 13 and 14. And so, this morning, take out your church bulletins and read these words, verses 13 and 14, together with me: 13 Jesus went out again beside the sea. The whole crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. 14 Then, passing by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the toll booth, and he said to him, “Follow me,” and he got up and followed him.” (Mark 2:13–14 CSB17)


Here, in these words, we meet a tax collector. Now, in those days, people hated tax collectors. They hated them for two reasons: First, the tax collectors charged too much money, often far more than what they needed to collect. Second, they exchanged their lives as Christians for lives of sin. There is a word that Mark uses here that describes a professional sinner.1 This is a person who makes a living by doing what is wrong. So today, think of a drug-dealer or an assassin—people who are paid and support themselves by doing what is wicked. This is not good. But what if—what if a person in that situation wants to get out. Picture Matthew there sitting at his both collecting taxes. What if he wanted to get out of that job and return back to his church. The problem with being a professional sinner is that when you go down that road so many of them were stuck in that profession even if they wanted to get out.


When I was a little older than you are, our family moved. And I started high school knowing no one. And, like any high schooler, I tried to make friends by making jokes. And I made a joke with a guy in my gym class. He took my joke in the opposite way I intended it and started arguing against me. And the next thing I knew I had an enemy, rather than a friend. And to make the situation even worse, it was the son of the football coach. And for months after that, I was known as the guy who was mean to that kid for no reason. And I wanted more than anything to have that label and title taken away. But I was stuck. The situation was far worse with Matthew. I lost a friend that day. Mathew lost his church and his salvation by becoming a tax collector.


But one day something happened. One day Matthew was sitting at his tax booth and he saw a man who kept teaching and teaching and teaching as he walked down the road. And what he taught changed him. It moved him so powerfully that he took two bold actions. First, when Jesus spoke to him, Matthew walked away from his money. Picture all the piles of money on that table. Matthew walked away from it all. The second action Matthew took we hear about in verse 15. Let’s all together read that verse: “While he was reclining at the table in Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who were following him.” (Mark 2:15 CSB17)


So, my children, not only did Matthew walk away from the money. He also invited all his fellow professional sinners to hear how they could get out. They had sinned. They had chosen a horrible way to make a living. But they were not stuck there. There was a way out. So then, what was that way out? Let’s read together, verses 16-17: 16 When the scribes who were Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 17 When Jesus heard this, he told them, “It is not those who are well who need a doctor, but those who are sick. I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.”” (Mark 2:16–17 CSB17)


How was it that Matthew could be sure that he wasn’t stuck forever in a life that made him sin so that he could make enough money to live on? He learned about Jesus. He learned about this man who was more than a man—he was God himself. This Jesus did for him what he could never do for himself. Jesus promised to take away the sickness of his sin. Jesus promised to cover his sin with Jesus’ own righteousness and perfection. And even more than that, when he asked Jesus to sit at his table, Jesus said ‘yes.” Children have you ever gone through that? Have you ever asked someone to sit with you at your table and then they said, ‘no?’ Matthew, by himself, had no right to ask Jesus to sit with him and eat with him. But knowing that this Jesus had forgiven his sins invites him, and Jesus says, ‘Yes.’ Oh, my dear children, this is why we come to catechism class. We come to catechism class to learn about this Savior Jesus. Week after week we learn about this sort of Savior. This concluded our catechism lesson today. Go home and memorize your parts of the catechism.


And so, for all your grown-ups and children here this morning, if you ask the question, “why should I come to class,” there’s your answer. As we read and study God’s word we learn about a Savior who heals our sickening and disgusting sins of tolerating hypocrisy. He forgives them and covers them with his own righteousness and perfection. So, my dear friends in Christ, come to class. Come to class not just because you promised to. Come to class because of the forgiveness that Jesus promises to you. Amen.



1 “ⲁⲙⲁⲣⲧⲱⲗⲱⲛ” (Mark 2:16 GNT-ALEX)

Proper 17

Moses

Proper 17
Year B

 
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Take Away The Weight


It’s out of my hands. Part of being a doctor—especially an ER doctor, is that it’s your job to save lives. And the situation you can get yourself in if you are that kind of a doctor is that you get good at your job and you begin to conclude that you can save all people. But then there are those times you cannot save them. There are those times where you realize that both the problem and the solution are out of your hands. In Numbers 11, Moses faced the same situation, that both the problem and the solution are out of his hands: 4 The riffraff among them had a strong craving for other food. The Israelites wept again and said, “Who will feed us meat? 5 We remember the free fish we ate in Egypt, along with the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic. 6 But now our appetite is gone; there’s nothing to look at but this manna!”” (Numbers 11:4–6 CSB17)


Here we are again in the desert, just as we were several weeks ago. And here we are reminded that there was this “mixed-multitude” coming up out of Egypt along with the Hebrews—or to use the word here, the “riffraff.” These many people who fled from Egypt continually tried to lead the Hebrews astray. But, sad to say, as we look at these words, we see that the Hebrews wanted to be led astray. So what happens next? 10 Moses heard the people, family after family, weeping at the entrance of their tents. The Lord was very angry; Moses was also provoked. 11 So Moses asked the Lord, “Why have you brought such trouble on your servant? Why are you angry with me, and why do you burden me with all these people? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth so you should tell me, ‘Carry them at your breast, as a nanny carries a baby,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where can I get meat to give all these people? For they are weeping to me, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ 14 I can’t carry all these people by myself. They are too much for me. 15 If you are going to treat me like this, please kill me right now if I have found favor with you, and don’t let me see my misery anymore.”” (Numbers 11:10–15 CSB17)


Week after week, month after month, the people complained about their food. And look at Moses. The Moses here is a different man than the one we saw months earlier. He is worn down. He he demoralized. Moses wasn’t the one who created these people. It wasn’t Moses’ plan to take them out of Egypt. And he wasn’t the one who was providing food for them in the desert—It was the Lord who was doing that. And yet, he felt the weight of a problem that was out of his control. So, in a low and lonely moment, he prays to the Lord that the Lord might murder him.1 And he prays that the Lord would just take the weight away.


Now, before we move on in these words, realize that nothing at all has changed from Moses’ time to our own. Christian congregations often have a habit of blaming a pastor for issues that are out of his control. Years ago there was a pastor who was called to a congregation after a long vacancy. And there were people who had left that church and weren’t coming back. But yet, when he got there, the leaders in the congregation made sure he knew that his job was to get those families who weren’t coming to church back into church. That was an issue that was out of his control. But the congregation was more than happy to pile on the weight. So the ancient Hebrews weren’t the only ones who face this temptation. Today Christians face the same temptation.


Now, if you were in the Lord’s shoes, what would you do with these problems? Notice then what the Lord does: “The Lord answered Moses, “Bring me seventy men from Israel known to you as elders and officers of the people. Take them to the tent of meeting and have them stand there with you.” (Numbers 11:16 CSB17)


Moses cries out, “Take away the weight.” But is this what the Lord does? The answer is “yes” and “no.” He still leaves the weight of caring for souls on Moses’ shoulders. But, notice what he also does. He spreads the weight. He chooses 70 elders to help Moses out in his ministry to the people. And there are some important details to learn about these men. We read: 24 Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord. He brought seventy men from the elders of the people and had them stand around the tent. 25 Then the Lord descended in the cloud and spoke to him. He took some of the Spirit that was on Moses and placed the Spirit on the seventy elders. As the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they never did it again. 26 Two men had remained in the camp, one named Eldad and the other Medad; the Spirit rested on them—they were among those listed, but had not gone out to the tent—and they prophesied in the camp. 27 A young man ran and reported to Moses, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28 Joshua son of Nun, assistant to Moses since his youth, responded, “Moses, my Lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses asked him, “Are you jealous on my account? If only all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would place his Spirit on them!”” (Numbers 11:24–29 CSB17)


Notice the two points these words teach us: First, elders are called servants of the word. But they only have a part of that ministry. Elders are not pastors. But they carry out pastoral work in a very limited way. Second, Moses says, “If only all the Lord’s people were prophets” (Numbers 11:29 CSB17) Moses says this because only a very small number of men will have the gifts to serve as an elder. I know of congregations of more than 500 members and they have no elders. And the reason for this is very clear: there will be few men who will have the maturity in God’s word to serve in this ministry. Notice what it is to be an elder. An elder is a man who loves God’s word and loves God’s people. And from this fact there arises two temptations. The first temptation comes from the congregation. The call, work and role of an elder is to spend time in God’s word. He needs to be reading God’s word at home. He needs to be sharing that word with his family. He needs to be coming to bible study class at church for one simple reason: Elders are asked pastor-level questions. But they do not have a pastor-level education. So they need to be in bible study class, immersed in God’s word. And the temptation the congregation faces is to take this man whose call has to do with God’s word and then divert him to other service in the church. So, instead of spending time reading God’s word, praying and studying God’s word with the pastor, the congregation has the elder fix door knobs and faucets. That is a real sin. But there is a second temptation. That is the temptation for the elder to divert himself. I have no desire to clean my office. I don’t. But when Saturday morning rolls around, all of a sudden I have this deep yearning to tidy up my office. Why is that? That is the time when I write my sermon. And my sinful nature wants me to do anything rather than get the sermon done. Since the fall into sin in the Garden it has always been this way. And it’s the same for elders in the church. Their work is carrying your weight. Their work is to pray for you. Their work is to grow in God’s word so that they can share that with you. And it is a sad and shameful thing when we divert them from that work.


And what do we do with this shocking realization that our energy and efforts are diverted? We repent of it. We turn to the God we see here in these pages. We turn to this God who has such amazing patience. If God was patient with his people and prophets in the Old Testament, won’t he be the same with us? And hasn’t he already been in Christ? Look at our Savior, Jesus. He was continually and constantly being invited to divert himself from the ministry of the word. But, in every example, he said, “no.” And he did this as our substitute, so that in the times we divert ourselves or others divert us—those sins are forgiven in Christ. And they are paid for on the cross.


With all of this in mind, how should we treat our elders in our congregation? Treat them as tremendous gifts. For there are congregations who do not have any. Thank God for them. But also help them. An elder’s primary role is to be in God’s word. So then, my dear friends in Christ, help him in that. If there is an elder who gets caught up in fixing doorknobs and dishwashers in this church, what should you do? Make sure that he is reading God’s word. Make sure that he is coming to bible class, for again, elders are asked pastor-level questions without a pastor-level training. And so that they can spend time in growing in God’s word, take that work away from them. Fix the doorknobs and dishwashers for them. Do this so that the weight of caring for you can rest on their shoulders once again. For each of us as pastors and elders at some point in time cries out, “take the weight away.” But our Lord, in is mercy toward us spreads the weight out among pastors and elders. Amen.



1 הָרְגֵ֤נִי נָא֙ הָרֹ֔ג Numbers 11:15

Proper 16

Faith

Proper 16
Year B

 
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Faith Chooses Us


You do not want to leave too, do you? In the words we just read, that was the question that Jesus asked his disciples. And the fascinating part of that question is the word, “too.” They could see multitudes and masses of people walking away from Jesus because, to them, he was speaking above their level of comprehension. And Jesus, no doubt, with sadness in his voice, tells them, “All the rest are walking away? Are you?” Peter lifts up his voice and says those words, ““Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68 NIV) And the question we ask is “how?” How is it that Peter stood with Jesus when all the rest walked away? The answer is that Peter’s confidence came by faith. Peter did not choose to have faith in Jesus. No, instead, God the Father gave Peter faith so that he could choose to stay with Jesus. Or, to put it differently, Peter did not choose faith. Instead, faith chose him. And notice that this amazing gift of faith that God gave to him was not frail and faltering. No, instead, it was fierce and forceful. All of this we look at this morning because we see the same pattern and example 1400 years before Peter. We find the same example in Moses. In the book of Hebrews we read: 24 By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter 25 and chose to suffer with the people of God rather than to enjoy the fleeting pleasure of sin. 26 For he considered reproach for the sake of Christ to be greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, since he was looking ahead to the reward.” (Hebrews 11:24–26 CSB17)


Faith chose Moses. But notice that this gift of faith was not frail. It was strong and forceful. And it needed to be. For Moses was caught and ensnared in a powerful web. Moses was a Hebrew baby. And Pharaoh had commanded that all the Hebrew boys be put to death. But Pharaoh’s daughter found a Hebrew baby in the Nile. She adopted the child and made him her own. But this makes Moses’ life weird, strange and dysfunctional. Today, they talk about Stockholm syndrome. It’s this condition where a person is kidnapped and then abused and then, after a while, bonds with the person who kidnapped them. And that’s nothing compared to what Moses grows up in. His adopted grandpa went out of his way to kill all the Hebrew males he could get his hands on. And yet, there in his own household is a grown-up Hebrew male that he calls his own. And what is it that keeps Moses there, living in denial of his family and his faith? All the wealth of Egypt is his.


And this is a warning to us. We are citizens of two kingdoms. The bed where you lay your head at night is your earthly home. But the promise of heaven is where you lay your heart. Worldly wealth is the tool this sinful world and our sinful hearts use to rob us of our earthly promised kingdom. Earthly wealth wants to give us such joy that we forget about the joy promised to us in heaven. Earthly wealth wants us to put our trust in it. And even worse, we can look around us and see so many people being enticed by it.


What was it then that led Moses out of that trap, and us too today? The answer is faith. This gift of faith that our Father in heaven gives to us is forceful. This faith chooses us. And it chooses us to say, “No!” And that’s exactly what Moses did. He had every ability to stay with his mother and have every benefit of worldly wealth. But his soul cried out, “no!” His faith in Christ led him to say, “no” and suffer with his fellow believers because the treasures he was promised in Christ were far bigger and far better. The wealth of Egypt gave him fame and power. But it did not give him forgiveness. It did not give him the truth. And the same is true for us. This gift of faith chooses us to say “no” to worldly wealth. And what moves us to do this is the promise of forgiveness promised to us in Christ. And what a great, amazing promise that is! For all those times we, in such a dysfunctional way loved our worldly wealth more than our Savior—that sin is forgiven in Jesus who loved us enough to lay down his life to pay for our sins.


Faith chooses us. This gift of faith chooses us to say, “no” to the enticement of worldly wealth. But as these words continue, we see that faith chooses us in another way: 27 By faith he left Egypt behind, not being afraid of the king’s anger, for Moses persevered as one who sees him who is invisible. 28 By faith he instituted the Passover and the sprinkling of the blood, so that the destroyer of the firstborn might not touch the Israelites.” (Hebrews 11:27–28 CSB17)


Here we bump into some of the strangest words you could possibly bump into as you read the bible. God tells us that Moses was not afraid. But that’s the exact opposite of what we read in the book of Exodus. And we know why Moses is so afraid. He’s afraid because he just got done murdering and Egyptian and burying him in the sand. How do we make sense of this? The answer is that in between verse 26 and 27 in these words 40 years has passed. Moses was a different man 40 years later. And in this too we see a huge temptation to sin. Moses’ faith was forceful. It was not frail and faltering. But what was the problem? His faith was not formed and informed by God’s word. Vengeance belongs to the Lord. But Moses took vengeance in his own hands, without a call and without a command from God. We too can fall into the same trap. There are those times we are put on the spot and put to the test. And then, when that time of testing comes, we take our stand with Jesus and shout out, “no!” But then we fall into another trap. We might do so without love and compassion for the person we are speaking to. We might do so like Moses, not just showing sin, but also bringing divine wrath and punishment. And all of this happens, because, just like Moses, instead of having our faith formed and informed by God’s word, we choose to live in ignorance. And so we have a faith that is forceful; but it is also foolish.


The Moses that we see in these closing verses was a different man. He wasn’t different in that, somehow, he stopped sinning or even that he sinned less than before. No, instead, he was a different man in that, for 40 years, he was one who kept continually seeing the One who was Unseen. The Lord hid himself and spoke to him out of that burning bush. But that’s not all he had. He also had God’s word shared with him through his Father in law, Jethro, who was a high priest of Midian. Moses had God’s word and grew in it. And that same invitation is here for you today. The faith that God has given to each and everyone of you is forceful. But what is it that moves us to actually open up our bibles and read them? Just like Moses, there in those pages of the bible, the Jesus that is unseen, we see. We see his great love for us in forgiving the times we have been cowards. We see his great love for us in the times we found how forceful our faith was and then became fools by going in directions God’s word didn’t—how he forgives our foolishness. And if you want an example of that, just look at Moses. Such shame he had for decades at murdering an Egyptian. But why was he so unafraid of Pharaoh and so unafraid to have Pharaoh call him a murderer? In God’s word he saw Christ, the Savior from his sins. That’s why we read God’s word. Our sinful natures have every reason and right to call us, “adulterer, slanderer, lier, and even murderer.” But in God’s word we see the Jesus who is unseen. And he calls us, “forgiven.” And in God’s word, he calls us, “friend.”


And so, my dear friends in Christ, don’t let your bible be this dry and dusty book on your shelf. Open it. Read it. And as you read it you will find your faith grow and be stronger. It will lead you to say “no.” But right along with that, I will also form and inform you as you see Jesus, who is unseen. Amen.


Proper 15

Crucifixion

Proper 15
Year B

 
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Wisdom Is Hidden In A Mystery


Betty always hid her bones. When I was growing up, we had a dog named, “Betty.” And she used to find animal carcasses and drag them home. But when you found them she would take the strangest course of action. If you found her treasured bones, she would drag them someplace else and bury them. They were her treasures. And she didn’t want you to have them or even know about them. So what did she do? She hid them from you. I mention that because in God’s word this morning we find the same pattern. In these words we see that this treasure of wisdom is hidden in a mystery. And first of all, it’s hidden in a mystery from the world. We read: 6 We do, however, speak a wisdom among the mature, but not a wisdom of this age, or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 On the contrary, we speak God’s hidden wisdom in a mystery, a wisdom God predestined before the ages for our glory. 8 None of the rulers of this age knew this wisdom, because if they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written, What no eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no human heart has conceived— God has prepared these things for those who love him.” (1 Corinthians 2:6–9 CSB17)


Betty used to bury her bones. That was her treasure. What does God hide? What is his treasure? Wisdom—true wisdom is what he hides. And he hides it from the world. And if you look around you in the world you see how true this is. The unbelieving world, for as much as it wants to be wise, has no wisdom. The unbelieving world wants love and stability. But they want this without marriage, the foundation of both. The world wants a version of morality—they want right and wrong to exist. But then they deny that there’s any truth out there in the world.


Wisdom, true wisdom is hidden from the world. And Paul proves it here in these words. If you were in a knife-fight with someone else, would you hand them a gun? But that’s exactly what the world did. They crucified the Lord of Glory. In that statement we find an amazing mystery. How is it that God was able to die? And yet, in Christ, we see that God died. These words are so very clear in what they say. They killed God in the person of Jesus. They would have not done that if they had any wisdom at all.


This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us. What an amazing mystery it is for us to ponder that in Christ, God died. If just a human died on the cross then the sins of the entire world could not have been paid for. But since the Lord of Glory died and rose, then the sins of the entire world were paid for. And that means so much to us. For we are sinners too. And one of the ways we sin is by concluding that God has to unveil and reveal all of his mysteries. Why did God allow me to lose my job? Why did he give me cancer or failing eyes? Why did he allow this tragedy to happen in the life of someone I love? So very often these questions remain mysteries. And we should know it is this way. We believe that there’s one God and three persons—a mystery. We believe that there’s one person of Christ, but two different and distinct natures, divine and human. It’s a mystery. We are used to mysteries. But when those mysteries affect us and our lives then we speak out and lash out. But how amazing it is that God reveals this mystery to us: The Lord of Glory was crucified. Since Jesus, both true God and true human died, our sins, even those sins we commit by not tolerating his mysteries, are forgiven.


This wisdom is hidden from the world. But it is revealed to us in a mystery so that we would know our sins are forgiven. But this wisdom is revealed in a mystery also so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us. Paul tells us: 10 Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who comes from God, so that we may understand what has been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:10–12 CSB17)


Notice the example Paul gives. Who knows you? Who knows what you think from moment to moment and feel instant by instant? You are the one—and the only one who knows. Who is the only one who knows what God wants and feels? God is the only one. And the only way you can understand what is godly and spiritual is if God explains it to you. And he emphasizes this in the words which follow: 13 We also speak these things, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual things to spiritual people. 14 But the person without the Spirit does not receive what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to understand it since it is evaluated spiritually. 15 The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, and yet he himself cannot be evaluated by anyone. 16 For who has known the Lord’s mind, that he may instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 2:13–16 CSB17)


Unbelievers cannot understand spiritual issues. Here too is where we face a massive temptation to sin. We know Jesus. We know the Holy Spirit. We know and have the wisdom from God’s word. So what do we do? We go to our unbelieving friends and family members and try to argue them into heaven. With human thoughts and human reasoning we try to wrestle them into choosing Jesus and understanding him. But they don’t get it. And here in these words we hear why that is. The person without the Holy Spirit cannot understand any wisdom from God because they are unable to. They are unable to choose Jesus. Our great temptation to sin is to argue people into heaven. But what is the solution? The solution is simply to share God’s word. For through God’s word he is able to perform miracles. With God’s word the Holy Spirit is able to break down unbelief. He is able to reveal his wisdom. He is able to forgiven sin and strengthen faith. And if you want proof that God’s word is so powerful, just look at yourself. When you came into this world you were an unbeliever. But by his grace, his undeserved love, he chose you. He forgave you. He taught you. And by his Spirit he still does all of these through his word. And he teaches you to embrace and rejoice in all these mysteries in the bible, even though you really don’t understand them completely. And if he can do that with you, he can do the same with others.


And so, my dear friends in Christ, wisdom is hidden in a mystery. It is hidden in a mystery so that we would know that our sins are forgiven. And it is hidden in a mystery so that we would know who it was who revealed this wisdom to us: The Holy Spirit. Amen.


Proper 14

Bread

Proper 14
Year B

 
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Flee From Idolatry


How did this happen? Years ago, in the town we used to live in, there was a bridge over the river. And the bridge had become so worn down that vehicles, especially trucks, weren’t able to cross it safely. So they shut the bridge down. Then people asked the question, “how did this happen?” You would expect the answer to that question to be, “time and rust.” But no, the question was getting to a different answer. The question says, “how,” But what it really means is “who?” Who did this? And how incompetent can they be so as to let this happen? When we see tragedies like this, it’s hard to not ask that question, “how did this happen?” And we aren’t alone. In the apostle Paul’s day, it was the same. In 1 Corinthians 10, we read: 1 Now I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, all passed through the sea, 2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. 3 They all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and that rock was Christ. 5 Nevertheless God was not pleased with most of them, since they were struck down in the wilderness.” (1 Corinthians 10:1–5 CSB17)


The Lord God led thousands of Hebrews up out of Egypt. They were rescued from Pharaoh’s army as it was drowned in the Red Sea. They drank water from a rock. And even more amazing, Paul tells us that that rock that watered them was Jesus. Well, if they were so blessed by God, then how did this happen? How is it that other than two men, that entire generation’s bodies died one by one and never made it into the promised land? How did this happen? They concluded that they were saved for their sins instead of from their sins. This is a warning for us too. We have been baptized into Christ. Through water and word he has delivered the forgiveness that Jesus won on the cross to us. But it is possible to throw that gift of salvation away and not make it into the promised land of heaven. How is that possible? In the words that follow, Paul tells us: 6 Now these things took place as examples for us, so that we will not desire evil things as they did. 7 Don’t become idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, The people sat down to eat and drink, and got up to party. 8 Let us not commit sexual immorality as some of them did, and in a single day twenty-three thousand people died. 9 Let us not test Christ as some of them did and were destroyed by snakes. 10 And don’t complain as some of them did, and were killed by the destroyer.” (1 Corinthians 10:6–10 CSB17)


How is it possible to throw heaven away? The answer is idolatry. That’s not a word we use very often. So we need to ask the question, what is it? Luther, in his large catechism puts it this way:


What does “to have a god” mean, or what is God?
Answer: A “god” is the term for that to which we are to look for all good and in which we are to find refuge in all need.1


Where do you go to find fulfillment and joy? And where do you go when things fall apart? Where you go is your god. If we go to any other place than to our Triune God, either when things fall apart, or to get fulfillment, that is idolatry. And Paul gives two example of idolatry from the Old Testament. First, There is the example of sexual immorality. Second, Paul gives the example of grumbling. And notice what Paul says about these sins: “These things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Corinthians 10:11 CSB17)


Why does the bible record the fact that many Hebrews committed sexual immorality and then were put to death? Why do we read that thousands of them grumbled and then were bit with burning poison until they died? Were these events written down for them? No, they died. They were written down for us. And so we take these words to heart. When the bible warns us against the idolatry of sexual immorality, we listen. Guard your eyes. There are places on the internet that should never be seen by anyone. But now they are easily accessible to all. Guard your eyes so that you don’t go there. And if you go there by accident, quickly run away. Also, guard your hearts. For those of you who are married, be very careful what you think and say about your spouse. Infidelity starts in our hearts. It starts when we begin to conclude that someone else has better assets and attributes than the person God gave to us as a husband or wife.


Idolatry is like a salty spring. You go to it expecting to have your thirst quenched. But you end up worse after than before. It’s true when it comes to sexual immorality. But it’s just as true with grumbling and complaining. I hear it as a pastor. Some hymns are too short. Some are too long. And the difficulty with this grumbling and complaining is that its thirst is never quenched. If the number of verses isn’t enough, then the next target is the style of music isn’t enough. And if it’s true here in the worship setting, then it’s also true out there in the world. It’s shocking that now, on Facebook, you can post a shocking, eighth commandment-breaking insult to hundreds of people. And you never have to actually speak to that person. Grumbling is a salty spring and an empty well. That’s the sort of idolatry that it is. And that brings us to the final words of this section of scripture. Paul urges us to flee from idolatry. But what does that look like? Paul tells us: 12 So, whoever thinks he stands must be careful not to fall. 13 No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:12–13 CSB17)


Paul brings up two important points. First, sin is common to humanity. Every sin is common to humanity. God’s word wants us to hear these words because each of us is capable of the worst sins. The people in prison are no different than you are. If put in the right circumstances each of us is able to do horrible sins. And even though we might conclude that gossipping and grumbling isn’t as sinful as sexual immorality, God says just the opposite. And shockingly, there is a very real comfort in that fact. How so? When there are those times when we fall into sin, and we feel guilty because we are guilty, Satan will be there to tell us that some sins are forgivable—but not yours. And when that times comes, we can remember this verse: “No temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17) That heinous, horrible sin I committed is able to be forgiven by Jesus. And that’s exactly what he did. Each one of us can say that, for all the times I thought impure thoughts or took impure actions; for all the times I gossiped and grumbled—those sins are paid for. They are paid for by a perfect Savior who never sinned even once. They are paid for by Jesus who as true God and true man died to pay for them.


So no temptation has come upon you except what is common to humanity. But notice what he says in these closing words: “But God is faithful; he will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation he will also provide a way out so that you may be able to bear it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13 CSB17)


Now, notice what these words do not say. These words do not say that God will magically take away the temptation. No, he says that along side the temptation there is a way out. God has placed his Holy Spirit in us. He has given us a new person, born of water and word, to combat that old person. There is a way out. There is a way to say, “no.” There is a way to flee from idolatry.


So, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, flee from idolatry. Do not give into sexual immorality or into gossipping and grumbling. Flee from it. Do so by remembering that no temptation has come on you except that which is common to humans. Do so by remembering that your Savior Jesus forgives these sins and promises to give you a way out—a way to say, “no” to them. Amen.



1 Robert Kolb and Timothy J. Wengert, eds., The Book of Concord: The Confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Accordance electronic ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 386.

Proper 13

Anchor

Proper 13
Year B

 
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Jesus, Free Us From Our Fears


What scares you? Years ago, when I was a child, there was a movie on TV. And it was scary. It was edited for television. But even after the editing, it was scary. And, looking back, what made it so scary was that it took not just one scary, but several and put them together in a movie. The movie was called, “IT.” And in the movie was one of the most scary creatures that could exist: the clown. But even more scary than this, there was this scene where the the scary clown was in a sewer grate. And, as the children passed by, it was there, ready to grab them. What scares you? Well, if there is one area of your life that you are scared in, how much more scary is it when there are several added? In our gospel for this morning, we find the same pattern. There are several sources of fear that are put together. We read: 45 Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, to Bethsaida, while he dismissed the crowd. 46 After he said good-bye to them, he went away to the mountain to pray. 47 Well into the night, the boat was in the middle of the sea, and he was alone on the land. 48 He saw them straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.” (Mark 6:45–48 CSB17)


Jesus goes off on his own to pray. But then what happens next? Stress is what happens next. The real stress of real physical danger piles up. The disciples begin to go across the lake, but then a storm begins and builds. And the only way for them to survive is to row against the wind and waves. The daylight turns to night time. The hours move onto the third and fourth watch of the night, about 3 or 4 in the morning. And as each minute and hour passes by their fear grows. They become terrified and afraid for their bodies. They don’t want to die. And who could blame them? But physical dangers aren’t the only dangers they face: 48 Very early in the morning he came toward them walking on the sea and wanted to pass by them. 49 When they saw him walking on the sea, they thought it was a ghost and cried out, 50 because they all saw him and were terrified.” (Mark 6:48–50 CSB17)


Not only did these disciples face physical danger. They face spiritual danger. Jesus walks out to them on top of the sea. And he is intending to walk by them. And you would think that that would bring them comfort. But instead, it makes the situation worse. They conclude that he is a ghost. They conclude that he is a dead spirit that is out to get them. And how is it then, that Jesus deals with their fears? We read: 50 Immediately he spoke with them and said, “Have courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 51 Then he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased.” (Mark 6:50–51 CSB17)


They had real fears. They were afraid of physical danger. They were afraid of spiritual danger. So what does Jesus do for them? First, he prays for them. They are there by themselves straining at the oars and stressing over the wind and waves. But Jesus is on a mountain praying for them. Second, Jesus speaks with them. Jesus gives them real faith and confidence with his powerful word. And Third, Jesus deals with the source of their fear. They were afraid of real wind and real waves. So Jesus really calms down the wind and waves. Compare this, my dear friends in Christ, with how the world deals with fear. You watch a movie, for example. And in that movie there’s a danger that is threatening to destroy people. And there’s that scene where the child asks the parent, “Will everything be allright?” And what does the mom say? She says, “I promise that everything will be all right.” Then later, when she’s talking to the grown-ups she confesses that she just lied to her child because it was necessary. Jesus frees them from their fear by actually dealing with the source and cause of their fear. And he does the same for us today. Jesus prays for you. Jesus shares his word with you. And Jesus deals with the source and cause of your fear. We live in fear that we won’t have enough food and he gives us our daily bread. We live in fear that a slow cancer or sudden tragedy will take us. And he promises to watch over us. We live in fear of Satan’s power with his evil spirits just like these disciples on the sea and in his word Jesus reminds us that he has conquered Satan in the desert and on the cross. And he will continue to conquer him. We live in fear of death itself. And Jesus then dies for us in our place paving a path for us so that if we die we will be with him. Jesus frees us from our fears. He frees us from our fears by praying for us, sharing his word with us, and dealing with the source of our fear. But there’s more to these words. Mark tells us: 51 They were completely astounded, 52 because they had not understood about the loaves. Instead, their hearts were hardened.” (Mark 6:51–52 CSB17)


Notice, how in these words, Jesus shows them the sort of Savior he is. Why? Why is it that they were so afraid? Mark tells us why. They hadn’t learned their lesson from the loaves of bread. What is the “loaves of bread” Jesus is speaking about? He’s speaking about the feeding of the 5000. They had not learned that the Savior that provides food also protects from danger. And what else does he teach them? 53 When they had crossed over, they came to shore at Gennesaret and anchored there. 54 As they got out of the boat, people immediately recognized him. 55 They hurried throughout that region and began to carry the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56 Wherever he went, into villages, towns, or the country, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and begged him that they might touch just the end of his robe. And everyone who touched it was healed.” (Mark 6:53–56 CSB17)


What sort of Savior did they have? They had one who provides. They had one who protects. They had one who was powerful. There these disciples were. They had been with Jesus for many weeks and months. They had heard Jesus teach them so much from God’s word. But then they go on dry land and what do they see? They see people who have almost no instruction in God’s word who have a stronger faith than they have. The disciples need signs. They need speeches. They need to not be separated from Jesus or their heart falls apart. But then they see crowds of people who only hear about Jesus. And then they trust in his promises.


What did they learn from all of this? Yes, Jesus freed them from their fear by dealing with the source of their fear. But Jesus did more. He reminded them to turn to and trust in him because he was powerful—all-powerful. And the same is true for us. When you are afraid, what should you do? Where should you go? Turn to Jesus. Trust in him. For all the times our fear threatens to drive away our faith, know that Jesus forgave that sin. He paid for it on the cross. He gave you faith in him through his word. Now, whenever you are afraid, turn to him. For he is powerful—all-powerful.


I’ve always wondered why people love to be scared. Why would anyone like to watch “IT”? People love to be scared to deaden themselves to the fear. If I watch a scary movie about disasters and demons and then tell myself that I am immune to both eventually I will believe it. And outside of Christ they have no shelter for and solution to their fear. We, on the other hand, speak about our fears because Jesus is the one who frees us from them. He frees us from them by dealing with their source and by encouraging us to trust in him, because he is all-powerful. Amen.


Proper 12

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Proper 12
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Why Does The Lord Test Us?


Heat and hunger. If you want to see people at their worst, all you have to do is add heat and hunger. For the past several weeks we were on vacation. And going out too and coming home from Montana we went across highway 200. On that stretch of road there is nothing. There is heat. There is dry, dusty air. There is sagebrush and rattlesnakes. But there is not water and food around for many miles. It’s the sort of place where you stop at the side of the road and read the historical marker and then get back into the minivan and enjoy air-conditioning. And we all know why. If you were there in that area it’s hot and dry. And that’s bad enough. But if you add hunger to the situation, it will bring out the worst in you. That fact is important for us to understand as we tackle these words here in Exodus 16. The Lord sent the ten plagues. The Lord drowned Pharaoh’s army in the Red sea. And they’ve been on their own for a month. They are hot. They are hungry. Oh, and they’re running out of food. With that in mind, we read these opening verses: 1 The entire Israelite community departed from Elim and came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had left the land of Egypt. 2 The entire Israelite community grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in the land of Egypt, when we sat by pots of meat and ate all the bread we wanted. Instead, you brought us into this wilderness to make this whole assembly die of hunger!”” (Exodus 16:1–3 CSB17)


The heat and the hunger bring out the worst in the Hebrews. They act out and lash out. Notice the ways in which they sin. First, they revise history. They say to Moses, “Oh, if only we were back in Egypt where we had big pots of meat to eat.” Now, my friends in Christ, what was the occupation of the Hebrews when they were in Egypt? They were slaves. The Egyptians gave them barely enough to survive on. And you don’t give slaves meat. Only the rich people get meat. But they also committed a second sin. They rebel against God’s representatives. The Lord was the one who commanded the Hebrews to leave Egypt. The Lord was the one who sent Moses and Aaron. This was the Lord’s command and the Lord’s work. But the people blamed God’s representatives instead of taking up the issue with God himself.


These are words for us to take to heart. For we too fall into the same traps. There is a temptation for us to revise history. Years ago, I remember talking to a mom. And the mom was complaining about how hard it was to handle her daughter now that her daughter had gotten into the teen years. The mom said, “My daughter says and does the worst things—things I never did when I was her age.” And it was hard to hear her and keep a straight face because I knew her mom. I had heard the grandma tell me how sinful the daughter had been when she was a teenager. All of us can fall into the same trap. We face this real temptation to conclude that we were better in the past than we really were. But just like the Hebrews, not only do we face the temptation to revise history. We face the temptation to rebel against God’s representatives. In his own wisdom God chose to put people over us in our lives for our good. But when they tell us the truth that we do not want to hear, just like the Hebrews, instead of taking the issue up with the Lord who commanded those representatives to say and share his word—instead, we are tempted to tear down God’s representatives. And so, when the child is told by the parent, “You aren’t going to the movies with your friends because you lied to me, “ the child lashes out against the parent. When the teacher hands back a bad grade to the student to didn’t study, the student says horrible things about the teacher behind her back. The pastor preaches against sin, but not the sin that others commit, no, the sin that I commit, and then what do I do? I speak against him. We face these real temptations not just to revise history but also to rebel against God’s representatives.


And so, if we ask the question, “Why does the \textsc{Lord test us,”} here is your answer: To show you your sin. But there is another answer we find in these words: 4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. This way I will test them to see whether or not they will follow my instructions. 5 On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” 6 So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites: “This evening you will know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, 7 and in the morning you will see the Lord’s glory because he has heard your complaints about him. For who are we that you complain about us?” 8 Moses continued, “The Lord will give you meat to eat this evening and all the bread you want in the morning, for he has heard the complaints that you are raising against him. Who are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the Lord.”” (Exodus 16:4–8 CSB17)


As we read these words, what we find amazing is first of all not what God says, but instead what he didn’t say. I don’t know about you, but if I were God for a day and my people revised history and rebelled against the people I had set up for them for their good, I would be tempted to punish them and pound them into the dust. That’s what I would have done. But look what the Lord does. Instead of pounding them into the dust he sets aside the time to teach them so that they would know that he is the Lord. The Lord is the one who doesn’t just test them to show them their sin. He is also the Lord who shows them his salvation. And what does that look like? We read: 9 Then Moses told Aaron, “Say to the entire Israelite community, ‘Come before the Lord, for he has heard your complaints.’” 10 As Aaron was speaking to the entire Israelite community, they turned toward the wilderness, and there in a cloud the Lord’s glory appeared.” (Exodus 16:9–10 CSB17)


The Lord goes out of his way to test them so that they will see that he is the one who gives them salvation from their sin. He allows them to see the Lord’s glory. My dear friends in Christ, this is not a small, trivial detail worth throwing away and forgetting. In the book of Exodus, the Lord would lead them with a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. And wherever they were, they could look out, see that cloud, and know that the Lord was there in that cloud to lead them, guide them, and above all, forgive them. The Lord cannot tolerate sin. And the only way that the Lord could be with them was if their sins were forgiven—The times they revised history and rebelled against his representatives—those are the ones that needed to be forgiven. He reveals himself to them in the cloud to show them that their sins are forgiven.


Today the Lord does not appear in clouds, does he? Instead he shows his salvation in his word. Here in God’s word we hear about our Savior Jesus who was absolutely true to all of history, never twisting it ever. And Jesus was treated as if he were the biggest rebel and revolutionary ever. And all of this he did to pay for the times we revised history and rebelled against him. There in his word you will find him—his glory and his salvation. But there’s more: 11 The Lord spoke to Moses, 12 “I have heard the complaints of the Israelites. Tell them: At twilight you will eat meat, and in the morning you will eat bread until you are full. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” 13 So at evening quail came and covered the camp. In the morning there was a layer of dew all around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew evaporated, there were fine flakes on the desert surface, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they asked one another, “What is it?” because they didn’t know what it was. Moses told them, “It is the bread the Lord has given you to eat.” (Exodus 16:11–15 CSB17)


Why does the Lord test us? He tests us to show us our sin. But he also tests us to show us his salvation—shown to our souls and also shown to our bodies. He gives to us our daily bread every day.


My dear friends, what is our response to all of this? Let us, with joy in our hearts, thank him. And what does that thanks look like? We thank him by remembering that he has forgiven our sin, so we don’t need to revise history. We don’t need to go back and pretend that we never sinned or that our sins weren’t as bad as they were. Why? Those sins are forgiven by Jesus. We thank him by following those in authority for one simple reason: God chose them. And we worship God by following them. And finally, we thank God by thanking him for our daily bread. We can say along with Luther, “God surely gives daily bread without our asking, even to all the wicked, but we pray in this petition that he would lead us to realize this and to receive our daily bread with thanksgiving.”


Why does the Lord test us? He tests us to show us that it is a sin to revise history and to rebel against his representatives. He tests us to show us his salvation—salvation both for our souls and also for our bodies. Amen.