Saturday, October 18, 2014

Isaiah 45:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 19, 2014;

Isaiah 45:1-7; The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 19, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have grasped, to subdue nations before him and to loose the belts of kings, to open doors before him that gates may not be closed: “I will go before you and level the exalted places, I will break in pieces the doors of bronze and cut through the bars of iron, I will give you the treasures of darkness and the hoards in secret places, that you may know that it is I, the LORD, the God of Israel, who call you by your name. For the sake of my servant Jacob, and Israel my chosen, I call you by your name, I name you, though you do not know me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things.” (Isaiah 45:1–7, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It was about the year 539BC. The Jews were scattered all over the kingdom of Babylon (modern day Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan). They had been exiled from their own homeland. Taken away from their beloved promised land because they had forgotten that it was God who had given that land to them in the first place. They had turned to other gods, and depended on their kings to rescue them, but they had all failed and now they were in exile. Their exile hadn’t been easy either. The kings of Babylon were harsh, and oppressive. They were reminded of the time they spent under the Egyptian whip. But even worse the temple in Jerusalem was completely destroyed; only rubble lay on the temple mount. And the city of Jerusalem itself was emptied of inhabitants. It, too, lay in rubble. And it had been that way for some 40 years now. But, things were on the brink of change, and there was reason to hope. Power had all but vanished from Babylon. A new empire was growing, Cyrus, the Persian king, was standing at the gate of the Babylonian capital. It would soon be his. As history tells us he took the city without firing a single arrow. The people were simply tired of the rule of Babylon Kings. They just opened the gates and let the Persians in.

But what was the hope of the people of God. What difference did it make to them, that another pagan would soon be in control of the land that they were exiles in? The answer is found in our text for today. It was written nearly 200 years earlier. Penned by Isaiah to give the exiles hope, to remind them that this exile would be a temporary situation. God had a plan to redeem them from their captivity. God was in control of the history that was about to be made. Just as He rescued them from oppression in Egypt, He would rescue them now. As amazing as it seems Isaiah scratched out a promise from God, that a new ruler would command that Jerusalem and the temple be rebuilt. And he even wrote the rulers name. “Cyrus, my shepherd,” God called him, “and he will do what I please.”

“I am the LORD,” wrote Isaiah as the Holy Spirit instructed him, “who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,” and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’

God wanted the Israelites to remember that God was in complete control of human history. God had called Cyrus by name, two centuries before Cyrus had even drawn a breath! He would be God’s shepherd, God’s anointed one, the one who would do God’s bidding. God called Cyrus to change history, to change the future of God’s people. And that is just what he did. He conquered the Babylonian empire; he “stripped kings of their armor; subdued nations.” It was all, just as Isaiah’s words had said generations before. And Cyrus even said that he knew what it was all about:

“Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.” (Ezra 1:2, ESV)

I’m sure that the people of Israel were shocked to see that this pagan king was indeed God’s Shepherd to them. That He was called by name to change their history and to give them a future. But, the idea of being called by name wasn’t a foreign concept to them.

But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (Isaiah 43:1, ESV)

God had been calling them by name since their name was just Abraham. “Abraham, Abraham… God said on the mountain where he told to Abraham to sacrifice his only son, “do not harm the boy… because you have done this and not withheld your son your only son… all the nations of the world will be blessed.” God had called Abraham by name to change the history of the world, to bless all the nations. And God called Jacob too, and he even changed his name to Israel, all to fulfill the promise made to Abraham and to the world. And when the people of God needed to be rescued from slavery in Egypt, when their future and history looked dark, God called Moses by name at the burning bush and rescued them and changed their history again.

When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son.” (Hosea 11:1, ESV)

The God who created the world was busy changing the course of human history for his purposes, for his people, to fulfill his promises. Through Moses God freed his people from slavery, through Cyrus God returned his people from exile. God had molded their history to change the history of the whole world.

It was through the people of Israel that God promised to make his greatest change. God called another Shepherd, and just like Moses, just like Cyrus he also would rescue God’s people from slavery and exile. “You shall call his name Jesus because he will save his people from their sins.” Jesus is the Great Shepherd called by name to rescue people not from slavery in Egypt but from the slavery of sin. And not from exile in Babylon but from the exile caused by sin. God called Jesus by name, to once and for all change human history, to give life and salvation where there was death and hell; to give hope and comfort where there was only despair. He came to rescue you and me, to change our history, to change our future.

The sin that we were born with, the sin that is in our very nature, put us at odds with our creator. We were exiles from God. Not by his choice but by ours. Just like the children of Israel chose other gods, we choose ourselves as god, doing what is best for us without concern for anyone else. We trust in our wealth instead of trusting in God. Isn’t it funny that our money says, “in god we trust?” So many people what to change it but really in many ways it’s telling the truth. We want to decide our own future, our own history and decide for ourselves what is right and what is wrong. Sin makes our future bleak. It destroys everything that is good in our lives, our relationships and our families. As a matter of fact sin gives us no future at all except the punishment we deserve for pushing ourselves away from God, and not depending on him.

Jesus rescues us from that exile. Jesus was called by name to change our history and give us a future again. Jesus was obedient to God,

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8, ESV)

And that death ended our exile and our slavery by reconciling us with God.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11, ESV)

Jesus called by name, humbled himself and was obedient to death on the cross, to rescue you and me from slavery and exile.

And Jesus calls you by name. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus the Good Shepherd, God’s Shepherd for his people calls them by name and they follow him. He leads them out of the slavery to sin and death. He guides them on the paths of righteousness, for his name’s sake. He changed your history; he has called you to change history, too. The God who created the universe, who forms light and darkness, who creates peace and disaster, the one who controls human history for his purposes, has called you by name. He was “obedient to death on the cross” for you. As he hung there bleeding and dying it’s as if he was calling out your name, this is for Bob, this is for Scott, this is for Mary, and this is for John. That was God’s rescue for you. God gave you his name in baptism, and called you by that name to be his own. Go and make disciples of all nations. “Change history in my name,” Jesus says.

Don’t think that the writers of our church’s constitution said, “The name of this congregation shall be Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa.” by accident. They knew that they were called by name. They knew that they were gathered together by the Good Shepherd, called by name, to change the history of Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa; to bring the Good News of Jesus Christ to this place. They were not called just to be of Creston & Mount Ayr but they were called to this place, and so are we.

Dear Christian friends called by name, in the name of Jesus Christ. We are called by name to this place at this time. And there is so much to do. We live in a community that is largely unchurched. Just look at our own congregational roles for example. Our average worship attendance is 100 and yet our membership is almost 350. The majority of people who claim membership in our church rarely sit in a pew. What are we doing to remind them that Jesus Christ changed their history? So many of the things we do are only for us right here sitting in these pews, but if we really want to be doing what God has called us to do, if we really want to “thrive” and not just “survive”, we’ve got to reach out with both hands to this community. We are called by name, in the name of Jesus, to bring the Good News of Jesus, the news that really changes human history, to Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa.

God has called you, by name. He called you in your baptism. He changed your history and gave you a future. Cyrus conquered Babylon and allowed the Jews to return home. God called the people of Israel by name, through them the Savior would come. God changes history by calling people by name. Jesus Christ changed human history forever through his life, death and resurrection. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ, Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Isaiah 25:6-9; The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 12, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine, of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined. And he will swallow up on this mountain the covering that is cast over all peoples, the veil that is spread over all nations. He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”” (Isaiah 25:6–9, ESV)

(Outline from Concordia Journal, Homiletical Helps, April 8, 2012;

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Once LCMS Lutheran, Apple executive Steve Job said in his biography, “life/death—like a light switch—snap on, snap off. The end, nothing, forever.” Is that how it is? We would think not, pray not, hope not… but it graveside is when we feel it the most. Heavy hearts, heavy steps. We know it well, grief, death, burial. We have all been there. And even more fearful is the thought at every funeral, that we will all eventually be the guest of honor.

But we have Easter Morning. The empty tomb. The risen Lord. He is not dead. He has risen. And as Jesus himself said,

Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19, ESV)

Break out the Champaign! Let the party begin. Our text provides the picture. YHWH is on Mt. Zion. God is present with his people, the church. YHWH brings the food. Meat with full fat. The best wine. The thanksgiving meal is served. Jesus has broken death. His death on the cross and his resurrection are our victory over death, and not just any death… your death and mine! You and I will live forever at table of the Lord, the marriage feast of the Lamb of God.

Oh, but there’s always more with God. The resurrection means that what separates us from God has been dealt its deathblow. That is also the point to the feast, the celebration. We will die but we will live. The pain of death is only temporary, the separation, too. The veil of death lifted. But the veil of sin is also!

Sin? It is everywhere present. Today is seems to define our culture. But, make no mistake, it has always been so. Whatever God says is right and true is thrown under the bus. What God says is wrong is celebrated. God says marriage is the place for sexuality between a man and a woman. We say “No!” we normalize homosexuality, promiscuity, lust, pornography. God says we are to deal fairly and honestly with others. We say “No!” Greed is good! The poor are left to their own devices. God says worship him and him alone. We say “No!” All ways of worship are equal. All paths lead to the same place. Any god is as good as another, or no god at all, is even better. And “we” are as guilty as “they”. We are the “all” in the “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23, ESV) Even in our own hearts lurks the evil, the capacity to do the most heinous sin.

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24, ESV)

God can, and he does! We deserve his wrath and punishment. We deserve eternal death. We deserve hell. God could punish, but instead he does Easter. The once crucified, dead and buried Jesus

…was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” (Romans 4:25, ESV)

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1 Peter 2:24, ESV)

Jesus lifts the veil of sin. We have forgiveness. He is risen. We will rise. Sin’s power is mute.

And death, “swallowed up forever.”

When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.” “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57, ESV)

The promise is now, and to be more later. “On that day”, says God, death will be done away with forever. There will be no more death. There is a day to come, a great feast day, when our Lord will return. And “on that day” it will be a done deal, promise completed in full.

At our funerals we have a Funeral Pall. It is a great white covering that goes over the casket. It tells us in death there is life. It is a reminder of the wedding garment required for entrance to the feast. The forgiveness of Jesus Christ, provided by God himself in Holy Baptism.

No more tears. No more sorrow. What God promises happens right here at the font. Baptism is death and resurrection, a promise of another fuller, complete, no sorrow only joy, bodily, physical resurrection.

And so now… we wait. Eagerly. Hopefully. Longingly. Grounded in our Lord’s resurrection.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you,” (1 Peter 1:3–4, ESV)

We stand in quiet confidence, in the face of whatever Satan, the world and our sinful flesh dish out against us. All of it is nothing in light of the salvation that God has accomplished for us in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus’ grave is empty, as will be yours and mine, as will be those who have gone before us in the faith. That is his promise in his victory over death, his life. Nor more sorrow, no more sin, no more punishment, no more tears, except tears of joy. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Isaiah 5:1-7; the Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost; October 5, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Let me sing for my beloved my love song concerning his vineyard: My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill. He dug it and cleared it of stones, and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it, and hewed out a wine vat in it; and he looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, judge between me and my vineyard. What more was there to do for my vineyard, that I have not done in it? When I looked for it to yield grapes, why did it yield wild grapes? And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it. For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah are his pleasant planting; and he looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, an outcry!” (Isaiah 5:1–7, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

“The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.” Dorothy Francis Guerney

Well it doesn’t exactly work that way does it? There’s chiggers, poison ivy, and snakes. Gardening isn’t always easy either. Weeds take over, knees get sore, thorns prick your fingers, and your back gives out from leaning over. The garden actually shows you two things. God’s wonderful creation and the corruptive nature of sin.

The text from Isaiah 5 is about a vineyard, it’s not a garden, but the qualities are similar. This particular garden that God describes is well designed, well cared for, and loved. But something is wrong. What should be a wonderful place to visit is actually corrupt. Instead of wonderful plump grapes for making good wine, the vineyard only has sour, wild grapes. The garden is full of weeds. The gardener didn’t get what was rightfully expected. Maybe you’ve planted something that didn’t turn out, something so awful you pulled it up by the roots. That’s what God is going to do to his vineyard.

And now I will tell you what I will do to my vineyard. I will remove its hedge, and it shall be devoured; I will break down its wall, and it shall be trampled down. I will make it a waste; it shall not be pruned or hoed, and briers and thorns shall grow up; I will also command the clouds that they rain no rain upon it.

This garden is raised to the ground, desolate, abandoned. Makes you think twice about being closer to God in a garden, doesn’t it?

Jesus tells a similar story in the Gospel for today (Matthew 21:33-46). A man planted a vineyard and rented it out. But when he sent his servants to collect the rent the tenants mistreated them and sent them packing. When the son was sent they killed him. What an awful turn of events. What horrible, unrighteous tenants. The owner must be fuming mad. Justice must be done! Everyone recognizes what must be done.

“He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons” (Matthew 21:41, ESV)

The vineyard owner was looking for good things from the vineyard. He got nothing but weeds. He even lost his son in the bargain.

Of course you know that the parables aren’t about gardens and vineyards at all. They are about people. The people of Israel were God’s “pleasant planting”. He loved them, cared for them and protected them. He planted them to do good things in the world, especially to bring justice and righteousness. But they only produced wild, sour grapes; bloodshed, violence, and selfishness.

Today we are God’s “pleasant planting”. Baptism waters us into God’s vineyard. He plants us in the church so that there can be good fruit, plump juicy grapes, for delicious wine. God does all the work. After all it is his garden, his church. He plants us through Holy Baptism. He feeds us through his Word, read and preached, and his Holy Supper. Everything necessary for the vineyard to produces good fruit. The “pleasant planting” of the church is centered in Jesus Christ Crucified, Cross centered, Christ focused. Jesus, the beloved Son of God, who lived, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of all people. Jesus is, after all, the one who said,

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:1, 5, ESV)

When are we “nearest to God’s heart?” When we are where God has placed us, producing good fruit among our neighbors, doing what God has planted us to do. And when we are receiving from him the gifts that he lovingly gives for the vineyard to grow and prosper.

But even we here, in God’s vineyard, have a problems don’t we. We see it all around us, and, when we dare to look in ourselves, in us. Sour grapes! Instead of kind words, we speak harshly. Instead of loving those in need, we ignore them. Instead of happily serving, we begrudge the time we spend here. Sunday mornings are too early, or run too close to dinner. The Gardener should be angry. We deserve to be plowed under and made a desolate plot of land. But God doesn’t give up. In fact, he sends his very Son, Jesus, to die for our sins. And he keeps sending us the nourishment we need. Jesus’ body and blood to nourish us, the Word poured into our ears, to convict us of our sin and turn us to him for forgiveness, leading us to repentance for the sour grapes. He gives us Pastors who preach and teach according to God’s Word.

The “pleasant planting” is all about God’s love for the world. Jesus says that if we love him we will keep his commandments. Remember how Luther taught them, how you learned them in Confirmation class. Every explanation that he wrote had two parts, dos and don’ts. To keep the commandments we do the dos and don’t the don’ts. Love you neighbor as yourself. Producing good grapes, bearing fruit in keeping with repentance (Matthew 3:8). And in light of our failure to do just that, it’s about the proclamation that God has taken care of our sin. “God so loved the world…” And remember it’s not the bearing fruit that causes us to grow, but God’s gracious gifts. We are forgiven, so we bear fruit. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Ephesians 5:2 - LWML Zone Really Devotion–Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa–October 4, 2014

 

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV)

Whew! Something stinks. Oh! I guess it’s me. Well I wouldn’t laugh if I were you. You smell too! Here listen to this and see if you smell it.

Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil. Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:25–32, ESV)

Do you smell it? You should. How many of you have done exactly, perfectly what God tells you to do there, through Paul. Yea, that’s what I thought. We all stink don’t we? We stink like death… as in the wages of sin. Might not be exactly the “fragrance” the planners over at LWML were thinking about when they chose this passage.

And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, ESV)

In fact, the flowers on the bulletin cover look nice but they might miss the mark a bit, don’t you think. Right before this Paul urges us to

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.” (Ephesians 5:1, ESV)

Well, I don’t know about you (well, I actually do know about you), but the fragrance of sin and death hangs in the air. We are sinners, due death and poor imitators of God.

And yet, Paul says, “Be imitators as beloved children.” He says “Walk in love, as Christ loved us.” How is that? Well, Jesus lived, and worked, and walked and talked, to sinful people everywhere. He gave them what they needed, food, healing, comfort, and most of all forgiveness. That’s the “gave himself up for us” part. His death on the cross, his suffering there, his burial in the ground, his body wrapped in linen cloths and spices to keep away the smell of death, all done for stinking sinners, you and me. He was an “offering and sacrifice to God”. The words are referring to the daily offerings and sacrifices given to God in the temple. That was Jesus. Offered and sacrificed on the cross. And it didn’t smell good. Death never smells good. But it was a pleasing smell to God. Not because it was flowery, but because it was God saving his children. God doing what is necessary to save sinners. God, in Jesus Christ, taking the punishment of sin and failure in himself, through the cross, through death and through the resurrection to new life.

Walk in love. Yep, even stinking sinners can do it. Not because they can, but because He did. All that stuff that Paul says to do we do because not so that. We love because he first loved us and gave himself as the atoning sacrifice for us. We love because our neighbors are living in the smell of death and the solution isn’t us, but Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Isaiah 55:6-8; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 21, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. (Isaiah 55:6–8, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Seek the Lord… It’s a great idea. This is a great text. It’s hard to read this one and think that God is far away, isn’t it? It’s hard to read this text and think that God isn’t ready to be found! It falls right on the heels of another great one. Only a few verses before this one is that great invitation… “Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come buy and eat…” What an invitation. To come and get what you need without money. Com to God, he has what you need. “Seek the Lord…” That’s a pretty sweet invitation.

But, wait a second. Is it really that sweet? Do we really want to seek this Lord? … This God? After all, the last thing this text says is that his ways aren’t like ours. It says that he thinks differently than we do.

For example… we like things to be easy. We like things to go smoothly. When the car breaks down, or the house isn’t quite clean enough we get pretty difficult to live with. We are impatient, and crabby, when things get tough, we’re not happy. I don’t think “this God” thinks that way. The way God thinks was made pretty clear to me one day when I visited the nursing home.

“Linda,” is said quietly, really hoping not to disturb the fragile looking woman lying in front of me. “I’m awake,” she said without opening her eyes. It was and odd scene… I was standing beside the bed, which looked freshly made. Her tiny body was hardly even visible… it didn’t even seem to make a lump in the blankets… almost as if she wasn’t there at all. Her eyes were sunken and dark, her skin was pink, paper thin, and her hair practically non-existent. She lay there still and quiet, waiting for me to speak again. “How are you?” I asked timidly. “Tired.” She stated, as I knew she would. “I’m patient,” she added, “I only wish I knew how much longer I will have to wait. But, right now… I have to wait. His way is best.” These were the same words she spoke, every time we met. … the same words of hope and faith.

She opened her eyes, even though they almost seemed clear they were still full of life. No amount of wishing would wish that away. “What shall we pray for today?” I asked, already knowing what she would say. It would be the same as last time, and the time before that. Her strongest desire was that the waiting would be over, that she would finally be “with Jesus.” “I don’t know why I’m still here,” she would say, “I keep telling myself that his ways are better than mine. I just have to wait.”

I’m not sure I could wait as long as Linda did. Her husband died twenty years before. Her friends were gone. Before she was at the home, she sat alone in her house. Her children were far away… old, weak and tired. Hadn’t she lived long enough? Hadn’t she seen enough? What was God waiting for? It wasn’t like she wanted to be rich or healthy or beautiful or anything like that… She just wanted to be with her Lord. Yet that’s the way this God thinks. We want it easy. He allows us to develop patience through hardship. We want things to go smoothly. He gives us strength in trouble. We want it all to go well, right now. He wants us to go his way. Do we want to see a God like this?

Yet, here we are, gathered together, seeking the Lord. Why? Because we know he’ll have problems. We know will not always have it easy. So we seek his strength, his patience, his way, even when we don’t always like his way.

But that’s not the only reason we ‘seek the Lord.’ Remember the text, right there in the middle of it. It says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. It says turn to God and he will have mercy. That isn’t the way we think either! We know how we feel when people sin against us. Think about when your children delay, or forget to visit you. Or when a friend stabs you in the back or people deliberately hurt you. You become angry. That’s what we expect from God, too. That he won’t forgive those who disobey him. That he will punish them somehow.

Thank God, he doesn’t think the way we do. Thank God, his ways aren’t our ways. Remember the text, it says, “He will abundantly pardon.” It isn’t that he just forgets about sin. He’s deadly serious about it. It’s just that his way isn’t ours. Thankfully when it comes to sin, he took care of it. That abundant pardon comes to us because of Jesus. He didn’t think like we do either. He went to the cross so we could be pardoned. He was treated as a wicked and unrighteous man deserves, even though he was perfect. He was punished instead of the ones who are wicked and unrighteous… hey! That is us! But that’s why we can turn to God, and like the text says, “He pardons us for Jesus sake, even though we didn’t deserve it. That’s what makes this invitation so great. That’s why we seek him.

You know what? That’s not all that it means to seek the Lord. It says to seek him while he may be found. What’s that all about? When can he be found? Where can he be found? Mary and the other women were asking those same questions when they went to Jesus tomb. Instead of finding him in it, it was empty. An angel told them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead?” He is alive! Again God’s ways aren’t our ways. We expect dead people to stay dead. That’s what those women expected. We don’t visit the graves of our friend and family expecting to find them empty. God’s way… is that graves are empty. God’s way of raising people begins with raising Jesus. God’s way is a promise that our graves will one day be empty.

When can Jesus be found? … This Jesus who now lives? Where can Jesus be found? Right now! Right here! He has made it easy to find him.

Look He’s here in this house. We are gathered together in His name, brothers and sisters in Christ. Together we speak and sing about what He has done for us. We have been given his name in Holy Baptism. Our lives together reflect the love He has given us. Think about all the things we do for one another from prayer to visits during illness.

Look, he’s here in his Word. His Word is where we find out about who he is, and what he has done. We hear about his life, death and resurrection. We hear about what he said, and learn about who he is. And we learn that he did it all for us, and we respond in faith.

Look he’s here in His Supper. Really, truly present… in, with and under the bread and wine, offering us forgiveness, life and salvation. Here he comes to us to touch us and strengthen our faith. Isn’t it just like our Lord, to know what we need and make it easy to find him? But, that’s just the way he thinks.

So… seek the Lord, while he may be found… right now, right here. Don’t worry that it seems strange, don’t worry that it isn’t what you expect. Remember He doesn’t think the way we do. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Genesis 50:15–21; The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 14, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa;

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil that we did to him.” So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.” ’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when they spoke to him. His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.” (Genesis 50:15–21, ESV)

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

It was a lot of water under the bridge! Joseph’s brothers were quite nasty. Not that they didn’t have some cause. Joseph was, after all, daddy’s favorite. It was Joseph against his eleven brothers. Israel, father of all twelve, kept Joseph near, and gave him special gifts, like the special long tunic (probably NOT a coat of many colors). Joseph must have continually rubbed it in his brother’s faces, (kind of like the Smother’s brothers, “mom always liked you best”). As the bible tells us Joseph had his father’s ear and brought a bad report to him about his brothers. They, for their part, could not speak kindly to him. And then there was Joseph’s dreams. The first was about the sheaves of wheat. “Hey brothers! Listen to my dream. We were harvesting wheat and my sheave stood up straight and yours bowed down to mine!” The brothers didn’t take it kindly. “Are you going to be our king? Are we going to be your servants?” It was another nail in the coffin of jealousy. But again Joseph wasn’t just prideful to his brothers. He told them all about another dream where the sun, moon and 11 stars all bowed down to him. Even his father was displeased. “Am I going to bow down to you?” Such was Joseph’s relationship with his family.

Sometime later, Israel sent Joseph to check up on his brothers when they had the flocks in the fields. While he was a long way off the brother’s hatred was sparked by the opportunity to get rid of the “favorite son.” “Let’s kill him and tell father that it was a wild animal that got him.” Such was their hatred for him. This was not your normal dysfunctional family. The oldest brother, though, had a different idea. “Don’t kill him, just throw him into one of the pits around here.” I don’t think that Ruben was really having pangs of guilt. I think he was thinking if he rescued Joseph he would move up in his father’s eyes and be (at least) the 2nd favorite. The brother’s carried out their plot against their brother and threw him into a waterless pit. While Ruben was gone away the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt and took the opportunity to make some cash. They sold the dreamer to them for the price of a slave. When Ruben found out, he wasn’t worried about Joseph but instead wailed, “Now what am I going to do?”

The Ishmaelites sold Joseph to a wealthy man in Egypt, named Potiphar. The whole thing with his brothers seems to have mellowed the boy a bit, because he became a very hard worker and was soon over seeing all of his master’s household. The bible says that God caused all he did to succeed. After some time, Potiphar’s wife had eyes for the attractive young boy and tried to seduce him. But Joseph would have no part of it. Finally, she cornered him in the empty house and grabbed ahold of his tunic. He stripped it off and went out of the house without it. Potiphar believed his wife’s story that Joseph was the one who was the offender. He had Joseph thrown into prison.

But, God was faithful to Joseph still. He was also successful there. Soon he found favor with the jailer and was the head trustee. He took care of everything in the prison. While he was there Pharaoh became unhappy with his cupbearer and his head baker and they ended up in jail. They each had dreams that Joseph interpreted. The cupbearer would be restored by Pharaoh but the baker hanged. It happened just as Joseph said. But the cupbearer didn’t think about telling Pharaoh about his dream interpreter until two years later when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream that he didn’t understand. The cupbearer remembered Joseph and he was brought to listen to the dream and tell what it meant.

“In my dream,” the king began, “I was standing by the Nile river and out came 7 nice looking, healthy cows. But right after were 7 ugly, gaunt cows. The ugly ones ate up the good ones and looked like they were still starving. I had a second dream,” Pharaoh continued, “7 plump ears of corn sprang from the ground followed by 7 thin ones. The thin ones swallowed up the plump ones.”

God gave the interpretation to Joseph. There would be 7 good years of great harvest followed by 7 years of terrible famine. The famine would be so great that people all over would completely forget about the good. He advised the king to prepare during the 7 good years by setting someone over the land to collect grain over the first so that it could be used during the second. And Pharaoh agreed. In fact, he picked Joseph for the job. Joseph did so well that he was placed 2nd only to the king himself.

Now the famine was as bad as Joseph had said, it even effected the land that his family lived on. Israel sent his 10 oldest sons to buy grain in Egypt as did people from everywhere. When the brothers arrived they didn’t recognize their brother but he knew exactly who they were. He accused them of lying to him and being spies. He said they could prove themselves if they went home and brought their youngest brother who had stayed behind. Simeon stayed behind and they went home. When the grain ran out, against their father’s protest, Benjamin was taken back. Joseph treated them all well, gave them grain and sent them on their way. Secretly he put a cup from Pharaoh’s table in Ben’s bag. He sent his servants to intercept the caravan and brought them back accusing them of theft. Ruben offered his own life for his younger brother proving that they had changed. Joseph revealed himself to them and invited them to come and live in Egypt through the famine. That brings us to our reading for today. Israel dies and the brothers are worried that Joseph has been waiting to carry out his vengeance against them.

They were filled with fear. Their father could no longer protect them from their brother’s anger. They had come face-to-face with the temporal / worldly consequences of their sin. They are repentant and Joseph assures them of their forgiveness. Sin was confessed and absolved. Despite the evil they had done, God had taken it and used it for their good, in fact the good of the whole world. God enabled Joseph to forgive, because Joseph himself had been forgiven.

The devil has a way of using our guilt against us. He wants us to live in fear. He doesn’t want us to receive God’s free and full forgiveness. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus Christ as our savior from sin. He doesn’t want us to see Jesus as the one who took God’s punishment for our sin into the grave and rose from the dead victorious. He works very hard to get us to live in fear and doubt God’s forgiveness. He sets us up to fear just like he did with Joseph’s brothers. God must be out to get us, punish us, and kill us. He couldn’t possibly forgive me. Satan has us right where he wants us when we are scrambling about in fear with nowhere to turn, trying to protect ourselves.

What Satan doesn’t want us to see, is Jesus. He is God’s answer to our sin. In love, God, the Father, takes our sin and heaps it on his own Son, Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh, born of the Virgin Mary, nailed to a cross, of his own free will. There hanging suspended between heaven and earth, he suffers God’s punishment for the sin of Joseph and his brothers, and for yours and mine. Jesus’ death is what we deserve, rejection by God and the eternal punishment of hell. But miraculously, after three days dead and in the grave, Jesus lives again. Not just some spiritual resurrection either, a real, physical, bodily resurrection. It is proof that God has vanquished sin, and death, and most important Satan. What Jesus has done, is promise us new life again after our death. Satan no longer has the threat of God’s punishment in hell for you and me. Jesus has removed that. Our death no longer leads to punishment but a waking to new life forever.

Joseph’s pit of despair was turned into salvation for his family. Jesus’ cross, his pit of despair, is our salvation. That’s the good news that God wants for you today. Jesus is your savior from sin, death and hell. He tells you that you have no need to fear. He promises you full and free forgiveness. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Matthew 16:13-20; The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost; September 24, 2014;

 

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.” (Matthew 16:13–20, ESV)

(Thanks to Kyle Castens) 

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ;

It’s a very personal question, don’t you think? Jesus says, “Who do you say that I am?” In a way it’s a question that makes you put yourself in the story. Standing there with the disciples, listening to Jesus, ready to answer his questions. The disciples had just answered the question about other people and Jesus, now it was their turn to answer for themselves. Peter speaks up for them all. He’s the hero of the story. He says, “You are the Christ the son of the living God.” Of course if we put ourselves there it’s in Peter’s sandals. We get the question right. We get the blessing of Jesus. “Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah!” Ah! Isn’t that a wonderful place to be? Basking in Peter’s glory. Even if ultimately Peter doesn’t get to take credit. Jesus clearly says also, “For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven”. But still, if we would put ourselves in the story, he would be right there with Peter at that very moment.

But the really a small problem. If you going to be Peter you need to take all of Peter. It’s easy to be there with Peter when he makes that wonderful confession that doesn’t come from his flesh and blood, but from God. He says clearly and correctly who Jesus is. It’s the next part that’s a bit uncomfortable. We like the Jesus that says “Blessed Are You!” But this Jesus were not so sure about. And it may cause you to try to find a different place to be in the story.

It’s when Peter tries to tell Jesus what the Christ is. Jesus confesses it.

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.” (Matthew 16:21, ESV)

Now Peter confesses with his flesh and blood. He takes Jesus aside. Apparently he doesn’t want to embarrass him.

And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” (Matthew 16:22, ESV)

He does fine when it comes to who the Christ is. But he struggles when it comes to what the Christ is.

It’s pretty clear, that you wouldn’t want to be Peter now. But the truth is he’s more you then you might want to admit. The whole problem with admitting what the Christ is, is that, if the Christ must suffer and die requires there to be a reason. And the reason is you. God’s law clearly shows you that it’s you. God’s law shows you your imperfection. Like looking in the mirror and seeing your dirty face. The law comes down on you and condemns you to death. You have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. You have not lived perfectly according to God’s demand. You have neglected to share what you have been given with those who need it. You have sought to be your own God. You have been self-centered. You have agreed with human speculation and invention about how the world should be an ignored God’s Word. And there is only one solution for your sin problem. The Christ must die. That is what he is.

He has come to do the things of God. He has come to fulfill God’s law perfectly. Peter (that’s you) may not have the things of God in mind, but Jesus the Christ always does. It is those things that define exactly who he is. Remember that Emmaus road? Jesus walks with his disciples in discusses the things that have happened in relationship to who Jesus the Christ is. He puts his whole life, his whole death, and his whole resurrection, in the context of what it means to be the Christ. And he shows how God’s Word is the key to understanding who the Christ is.

“And beginning with Moses and all of the prophets, he interpreted to them in all of Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Lk 24:27).

Who is Jesus? He is the Christ, the son of the living God. What does this mean? It means the cross and death. It means the grave and resurrection. It means forgiveness and life forever. These are the things that do not come to you by flesh and blood but are revealed from God’s Word.

It’s okay to put yourself in Peter’s shoes. It’s okay to bask in the wonder of what it means to declare Jesus the Christ. It’s okay to live in the fact that the Christ died on the cross for your forgiveness, your life, and your salvation. After all Jesus says that this faith is the foundation of the church. After Peter’s great confession Jesus says to him, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail over it.” This rock, his faith to confess who Jesus is and what he is. Jesus is the Christ, the son of the living God. St. Paul says it.

“built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In whom you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (Eph 2:20–21).

You don’t really have to worry about putting yourself into the story. God has already put you into the story. The story of Jesus, his life, his death, his resurrection, and his coming again, is your story. In fact you are a major character. The whole of his life was lived for you. You are the one who gains everything by what the Christ does. You are put into the story by means of the water poured over your head and the work of the Holy Spirit to give you “the rock” the faith to confess who and what Jesus is for you. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.