Saturday, May 28, 2005

2nd Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2005, 2 Tim 2:1, 3-5

Second Sunday after Pentecost, May 29, 2005

You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. (2 Timothy 2:1, 3-5, ESV)

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

“Armed Forces Sunday”

Over the years thousands of men and women have served our country in the military. This weekend is a time to say thank you. Take the time to attend Memorial Day events on Monday, that’s a good start. As for me, to those of you who have served, in case you’ve never heard me say it before, “Thank you.”

Military service is dangerous. Thousands of men and women are injured serving our country. Thousands have been killed and injured in battle. Our country uses the Purple Heart to recognize those who are wounded in battle by the enemy. That medal can’t restore or replace the broken bodies and lives. It is just one way we show these who sacrifice themselves support for what they do. The families that serve, the families that have sacrificed deserve our enduring support. Being a soldier is a difficult job.

St. Paul talks to Pastor Timothy about enduring support, too. Timothy was a young man that God had called to be pastor of a congregation that Paul had founded. Like all Christians, Timothy found that living in the world was a struggle. You and I know what a struggle it can be. So much going on around us is a direct challenge of our faith. So much that goes on around us speaks against the truth of God’s Word. So much of what goes on around us pressures us to compromise the idea that Jesus is the only way of salvation. It is a fight. Thankfully we also have enduring support. We have the enduring support of God himself.

Our enduring support comes directly from God and His promises to us. “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5b, ESV) God promises. He has made a connection to us. He has established a relationship to us. So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6, ESV) We don’t have to have any doubt about God’s enduring support either. He has made His connection known to you directly. One of the young people in our congregation said it as well as I can say it. Go look at the picture on my door. It says, “Baptism is good for you.” It’s good for you because its God’s promise that what Jesus has done is yours. St. Paul says that through Baptism we are connected to Jesus death and resurrection. Jesus death on the cross is history. It’s our history. St Paul tells us that Jesus death on the cross is our death. He takes the punishment for our sin to the cross and gives to us his perfect life. So that when God looks at us He sees Jesus perfect life instead of a sinner deserving punishment. Because of Jesus, through Baptism, God says to us “You are forgiven!” If we’ve been forgiven because of Jesus death, then we have a new life in Jesus, through Baptism, because of Jesus resurrection. No matter what the struggle we face in life, God promises us eternal life through Jesus. It is God’s enduring support. It’s yours through faith in Jesus and assured to you through the water of Baptism, and God’s promise.

St. Paul told Timothy to not get entangled in civilian pursuits. What he’s really telling him is to make sure that his focus is right. You’ve seen those military reviewing parades? The Plooton commander will shout “Eyes right!” and every soldier will turn their head to face the commander as they pass by. Their focus is on serving the commander. They are pledging obedience to his rule. They pledge it, because they know that they must do that to get the job done. Soldiers in battle will often follow a beloved leader even if it means death. They follow because the leader has earned their respect. Our Christian focus is on our Leader. He has won our respect through His self sacrifice. We know He loves us and cares for us. We know He has our best interest at heart. The object of our faith is Jesus. There’s a beautiful Easter hymn that says:

The strife is o’er, the battle done.
Now is the victor’s triumph won;
Now be the song of praise begun.

When we focus on Jesus we focus on the one who has already won the battle. He has conquered our enemies. It’s not a matter of fighting, it’s only a matter of living in the victory that has already been won.

And yet, while we live in this sinful world there is still struggle. Even though the victory is sure, theirs still a lot of struggle. World War II was a long struggle. When the Allied forces made their bold landing on the beaches of France on D-Day the outcome of the war hung in the balance. Once the landing was successful, once the foot hold was gained the war was really over. Hitler had no more resources to repel the invaders. The Nazi war machine was broken. There was nothing they could do to change the outcome. But many soldiers still died after D-Day. The war dragged on for months more. The mop up after the landing was still bloody and dangerous. We live with the victory at hand. But every day we struggle with our three great enemies. Satan wants us to despair. The World wants us to give up on Jesus. Our sinful flesh wants to be in control.

Satan is the “spy behind the lines.” He knows our weaknesses and he uses them against us. He whispers lies in our ears, and all too often they are things we want to be true. When we listen we cause ourselves more trouble.

The world around is us an enemy to Jesus. It tells us that there are many ways to attain a relationship with God. It tells us we are arrogant if we say we know the only way. It says the struggle to remain faithful to Jesus isn’t worth it.

Our own will, is the most difficult enemy for us to deal with. It doesn’t make sense to us to have to suffer for our own good. We want to avoid pain. We want the easy way.

Jesus assures us that He has defeated these enemies. Satan is judged. His destination is hell. We don’t have accompany him. Jesus has won our release from hell by His death. The world too is judged. When Jesus comes again, the whole world will see that He is God. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. Many won’t like it but it will happen. Our sinful flesh has been dealt with by Jesus, too. St. Paul also tells us that it can’t be transformed, reformed or conformed to God’s will. The only thing that can happen is that it be crucified. Jesus has done that for us too. We are dead to sin and alive to Christ. The strife is o’er, the battle done.

It was Geo. Washington that created the medal now known as the purple heart. He wanted a medal to reward unusual instances of gallantry. Since 1932 it’s been given to those wounded by the enemy in battle. The lives you and I live this side of heaven are filled with struggle. Think of the song “Onward Christian Soldiers.” We call our struggle in this world the struggle of the church militant. Living the life Jesus would have us live everyday takes courage. There are Christians around the world whose struggles to be followers of Christ are deadly. The struggle to live against our sinful nature is a life long struggle. We can’t be successful. Jesus sustains us in the battle. Jesus is our enduring support. We survive by holding on to His promises.

I’ve been to Arlington National Cemetery. It is a moving experience. You walk among the headstones row after row. Thousands of them stretch off into the distance. It is a field of white crosses that covers a vast area. Every stone denotes a sacrifice. Not all died in battle. But all served. The price that was paid to keep our nation free is very graphic there. As you walk through that cemetery, in fact as you visit any cemetery you will often come to realization that everyone ends up there. All lives ultimately end in death. No matter how a life is lived, no matter what the sacrifice, no matter how noble, all life ends in death… except one. Jesus Christ has conquered death. He promises eternal life to all who believe in Him. That’s what prompted St. Paul to also write. For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21, ESV)

God’s richest blessings to you as you remember the sacrifice of those who serve our country. But even more importantly as you remember the sacrifice God has made to make you His child forever. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2005, Romans 11:33

Our Savior, Swea City ~ St. John’s, Burt

(Romans 11:33, ESV)

(Thanks to Norman Nagel)

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

What is God like? You probably don’t get asked that question very much. But if you did I’d be willing to bet dollars to doughnuts that you wouldn't answer the question with the Athanasian Creed. In some ways it feels more like the “Athanasian Confusion” rather than a statement of belief. And yet again I guess we shouldn’t expect it to be all that easy to understand it is after all speaking about God. God is well beyond our understanding. To attempt to describe Him in human language is to attempt the impossible. God as farther above us then we are above insects. The author of The Letter to the Romans says “For who has known the mind of the Lord?” (Rom 33:34, ESV). So any creed that delves into the mystery of the Holy Trinity is going to be tricky. And yet, it is a confession of what we believe. Its purpose is to state what the Bible tells us about God in as clear a fashion as possible. To say a creed is to say what God says. To confess what God tells us about himself. To “Same-Say.” We say what we say about God because it is what He tells us about Himself.

I said God was far beyond our understanding. It’s true. We don’t have the brains to understand “depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God.” And sin, our broken relationship with God, makes it even more difficult. In Isaiah it tells of God looking down on the earth and the people are like grasshoppers. Think about holding a grasshopper in your hand. What would it think of you? It probably only understands that it can’t escape as you hold it but it will try to escape to preserve its life, because it fears being crushed. There is nothing else it can understand about you. It can’t understand anything about who you are, or what you are like. Its brain isn’t big enough to understand. It can’t fathom the depth of your knowledge. Its reaction to you is based on its fear and desire to preserve its life. If grasshoppers had a language, how would that language be able to describe you?

If you want to know what humans think about God, you only have to look at the world religions outside of Christianity. You’ll see that same kind of fear. Without God’s Word nature is our only information about who God is and nature is a dangerous place. If it is God’s creation and human beings are routinely swept away in tsunamis and swallowed up by earthquakes what language can be used to describe Him? Consider the billions of people on the earth and the insignificance of a single person among billions. The human reaction to the God of nature is to do whatever it can to appease Him. We must live the best life we can to keep His anger away from us. We must make something of our lives to be noticed in the right way. Or even more common today, deny the obvious and ignore the Creator so as to not be accountable to Him.

Human beings who fear God do so naturally. We have been given a conscience that tells us what is right and wrong, what pleases God and what makes Him angry. Human beings have every right to be afraid of God. You know what He expects of you, and when you look at yourself you know you don’t live up to it. It is very similar to the fear the grasshopper in your hand feels. You have the power to destroy. God could just as easily destory you.

How could that grasshopper come to understand who you are? Well there is no way it for you to communicate with it except to become a grasshopper yourself. As one of his own you could tell him about you in grasshopper language.

When we want to know what God is like, we only have to look to Jesus who did that very thing for us. Jesus is God become man, to tell us what God is like in human language. He tells us that He is God. He does things only God can do. He says things that only God can say. He is worshipped by people who see Him for who He is. There are people who don’t believe He is God. They call Him crazy. And it’s true, Jesus is either God or He is insane. You can’t just make Jesus a great moral teacher. If what He says is true, then He is either crazy, or He is God.

Jesus is God, expressed in human person, language and action. Jesus is God speaking to human beings about who He is and what He wants for us. St. John even says that Jesus is the Word of God. Jesus is God speaking about Himself in a living and breathing way. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV) If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is God that can be heard, and seen and touched and most importantly, understood.

Jesus says to us, Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. (John 15:13, ESV) He’s telling us something about God that we can’t know any other way. He shows us of God’s love for us at the cross. The cross is what God thinks of us, we are His friends. But friends just doesn’t quite cover it does it. Jesus laying down His life is even more than we expect. In Jesus, God becomes human and suffers the eternal agony of hell’s punishment. He dies for everyone, not just the ones who say they love Him. God’s love is expressed even for those who reject Him and wish Him out of existence. His love is for those who hide from Him in fear. It is for those who know what God expects and know they can’t do it. Let me say it very clearly. The love of God you see in the death of Jesus Christ is for you.

There is no greater love. God loves the un-lovable. God loves sinful people. That is what God is like. God dies to set aside our sin, to bring us forgiveness instead of punishment. When punishment is set aside fear of the Judge is gone. Because of Jesus’ paying the punishment for our sins we no longer need to be afraid of God. In fact, we now call God our Father.

“Our Father…” we pray in the prayer that Jesus gives us. “I believe in God the Father…” we confess in the other creeds of the church. We have that relationship with God because of Jesus. He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6, ESV) Faith believes in the forgiveness that Jesus has made. With that forgiveness in hand we can approach God, as Martin Luther put it: With these words [Our Father Who art in Heaven] God tenderly invites us to believe that He is our true Father and that we are His true children, so that with all boldness and confidence we may ask Him as dear children ask their dear father. (Luther’s Small Catechism).

Without faith is to be without forgiveness. God is no longer Our Father, but only Our Creator and Righteous Judge. When the cross of Jesus is rejected, forgiveness is rejected. Where there is no forgiveness there is only God’s inescapable wrath and punishment.

So Jesus shows us God the Father, and our relationship to Him through the forgiveness of sins, blood bought by His death on the cross. He also shows us the Holy Spirit. It’s important to know about the Holy Spirit because if it weren’t for Him we’d have no faith. No human being can believe that Jesus is God any more than we could believe that a grasshopper could be a person. Jesus Christ completely God and completely man is nonsense to our way of thinking.

Jesus asked His disciples who they thought He was. Peter confessed it clearly. You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16, ESV) Jesus reply tells us of the work of the Spirit. “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matthew 16:17, ESV) It isn’t specifically the work of the Father that Jesus is talking about, St. Paul clarifies it for us. “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 13:3, ESV) The Holy Spirit works faith in us to believe and confess that Jesus is Lord, faith to see that Jesus is God’s son sent to be the sacrifice for our sin and restore our relationship to God the Father.

The Holy Spirit works through the Word of God, which is all about Jesus. The Spirit never points to Himself; He’s only interested that we see Jesus. The Gospel of Jesus enters our ears and hearts and the Spirit turns us to Jesus so that we can see who He really is. When the Holy Spirit works in us, He points to us He points at our sinful hearts. Then He shows us Jesus, our only hope for freedom from sin’s punishment. He shows us Jesus, our only way to the Father. Since you can never quote Martin Luther too much:

I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. (Luther’s Small Catechism, The Apostle’s Creed, The Second Article: On Redemption)

The Holy Spirit enlightens me with His gifts, Luther says. That’s talking about Holy Baptism and Holy Communion: God’s Word in visible form; God, doing what God does, active in our lives bringing us Jesus and the forgiveness of our sins.

What is God like? Did you notice that in answer to that question we talk about what God does? God is a living and active being. He is best known for what He does, most clearly in what He has done in Jesus. God’s action shows us that He is a unity in trinity, three persons in one God. We speak most clearly about The Trinity when we speak about God and say what He does.

Look at the Apostle’s Creed. God creates. God saves. God makes us holy. God is three persons, unified in action, unified in purpose, unified in love for you and me. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Festival of Pentecost, May 15, 2005, Acts 2:1-4

Pentecost, May 15, 2005

St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City

(Acts 2:1-4, ESV)

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

“Lost Dog!” The sign said. “$500 reward. Description: Black and tan mixed breed. Flea-bitten. Left hind leg missing. Blind in right eye. Answers to the name, ‘Lucky’”

Now Lucky doesn’t seem like much of a dog. Not to me anyway. But there is someone who wants him back and he is willing to pay the price to do it. The funny thing is that Lucky doesn’t sound like a dog that’s even able to do a lot. He certainly isn’t worth the reward that’s offered. He has no pedigree, can’t see, can’t run, plagued by fleas… and yet someone wants him back. Someone loves him that much.

Have you ever felt like Lucky? Lost? Unable to do what needs to be done? I have. We all feel that way at one time or another. Actually, God makes it quite clear that we were all like Lucky. The entire human race is “lucky”: lost in our sins, hell-bound, spiritually blind and unable to see God, unable to do what God wants us to do. And yet, God paid the price to have us back. The price He paid was more than a $500 reward. He paid the price of His only begotten Son.

Jesus suffered and died on the cross to have us found. Someone loves Lucky a lot. God loves us even more. You and I have already been found, and returned home to have a relationship to God again.

Now just think another moment about crippled, blind, worthless, Lucky again. I think the Disciples and the folks gathered on the first Pentecost felt. It’s true they’d seen the resurrected Jesus, but they probably felt pretty worthless to tell people about Him. Who’s going to believe a bunch of flea-bitten fishermen from Galilee? That’s where I think you and I can relate. I’m sure those folks gathered together there had the same fears and problems and questions you have when you think about sharing the Good News of Jesus with people. We feel pretty worthless when it comes to that kind of thing. It’s much easier to get out the checkbook and pay to have it done for us. I’ll bet you’ve had thoughts like these: “I don’t know the bible well enough to answer questions that will come up if I talk about Jesus.” “Christianity is too difficult to understand. It takes years to learn. Where do I begin?” “I can’t tell that person about my faith we have too much questionable history, they know me too well to believe my faith is real.”

That last one thought is one of the reasons why I think evangelism is more difficult in communities like ours than anywhere else. It is very difficult to speak about Jesus to someone you’ve known all your life and never had anything remotely spiritual pass between you. And Jesus name has only been spoken of as part of a curse. In communities like ours, we already have well established relationship, and those relationships have well established expectations, which may very well include the idea that religion isn’t to be discussed.

Well, the disciples had similar problems. They doubted their ability to tell people about Jesus, just as you do. They didn’t just feel lost, like Lucky, but worthless, too.

That’s one of the things I like about this account of Pentecost. I’ve read it hundreds of times, and every time I come to the same conclusion. The disciples didn’t do a thing. They sat in a room waiting, un-inspired to do what Jesus told them they would be doing. The thing that fired them up was the fire… of Pentecost. The rushing wind told them that God was there. They were filled with the Holy Spirit, the writer tells us. The tongues of fire that showed them what was happening to them also told them what to do next… it was the sign of what the Holy Spirit was giving them. I know the common picture you have in your mind is of the fire setting on their heads. It’s not a bad picture. But I think the fire is just as a literal translation would picture it. The fire distributed to them, in “tongues like fire.” Not on top of their heads but in their mouths, after all as soon as the Spirit came to them they began to speak.

Now by this time the crowds had gathered to see what was going on. That windy sound drew them. And the disciples were speaking in languages they hadn’t learned, to people from all over the world, who understood what they were saying. And don’t think for one moment they were talking about the weather. When the Holy Spirit speaks, as He did on that day, He always speaks about Jesus. Nobody expected it to happen, least of all the disciples. But you see, God had promised that this is what they would do, and He always makes good on His promises.

Peter got up before the crowd and preached a sermon. When it was done, the Holy Spirit gave the gift of faith to about 3,000 people. Pretty astonishing for a rag-tag group of fishermen from Galilee. Even though they were more like our dog Lucky, God used them to accomplish something great. The Holy Spirit equipped them to do the task that He gave them to do.

Now, this is the point I want you to think about. You’ve been equipped to do exactly what God has called you to do. It might not be as dramatic as speaking in foreign languages you’ve never been taught. You might not hear the violent wind and have fire coming out of your mouth, but the very same Holy Spirit is in you that was in those disciples in Jerusalem. You see, that’s Jesus’ promise to you. “If I go, I will send Him to you.” In your Baptism God came to you in the person of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). He lives in you and He equips you to do the task at hand. Think about it this way: If He can make “Galileans” speak in foreign languages that they never learned, He can and will help you speak the simplicity of what Jesus did for you.

That’s why we lit the candles during the Acts reading today. That fire you held in your hands isn’t the Holy Spirit, but I wanted you to feel connected to the disciples. There was no way for me to put that fire into your mouth… but that’s exactly what God has already done through the Holy Spirit in you. You might fell worthless like the dog, Lucky, but that doesn’t matter. It’s not up to you to say the right thing anyway. It’s only up to you to speak. Just like He gave the disciples the foreign words to say, He’ll give you the words to say. That’s exactly why He’s there.

So, where do you start? How about a few practical tips: First, pray that the Holy Spirit will show you the opportunities you have. They are there in your everyday life. He’ll make you aware of them. Second, remember that even your Christian friends need to hear about Jesus. Just think about what it means to you to hear of God’s love for you in Jesus. It doesn’t matter if they are Presbyterian, Methodist, or even members of St. John’s, we all need to hear about Jesus again and again. Keep it simple. You don’t have to preach a sermon, that’s my job. Just take a deep breath, call upon the Spirit and say something about Jesus. The Holy Spirit is right there to guide you, depend on Him. You have God’s promise that it will be enough.

There’s a story in the Old Testament about the Prophet Elisha and a poor widow (2 Kings 4:1-7). She was about to loose everything so she came to Elisha for help. Her husband had died and the creditors were at the door. Since she couldn’t pay them her sons were to be made slaves to pay the debts. All she had was a little flask of oil. The prophet told her to go to her neighbors and borrow all the containers she could get her hands on, “not too few!” He urged her. “Go into your house and start pouring… and pouring… and pouring.” She did what he said and as long as there was another pot to pour into, the oil kept flowing and flowing and didn’t run out.

You know, God poured out His Holy Spirit on Pentecost just as He promised. He poured out His
Spirit on you in Baptism and the Spirit never runs out. You see Him at work all the time. Every time another baby is baptized, every time the Cross of Christ is proclaimed, every time you hear “I announce the grace of God to all of you …” and even when you receive the body and blood of Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, that is the Holy Spirit giving and giving.

So Pentecost is for you. It’s a reminder that you aren’t alone but Jesus is with you through the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life. God promises us, “I will not leave you or forsake you.” (Joshua 1:5) He proves it through the life death and resurrection of Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. He rescued you when you were lost and helpless. Amen.

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

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 8th, 2005, 1 Peter 4:12-17

7th Sunday of Easter (Mother’s Day)
St. John’s, Burt ~ Our Savior, Swea City
(1 Peter 4:12-17, ESV)
(Thanks to Pastor Tim Pauls)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Mother’s day is great day to be in church. In fact when the national holiday was established 1911 and has very strong roots in the church. In those days, the celebration of Mother’s Day always began in church. But we should also take not that Mother’s Day isn’t a church holiday. It’s not on the churches yearly calendar, there are not specific reading set aside for the day. Today’s Liturgical date (church calendar date) is The Seventh Sunday of Easter.
Now just because there isn’t day set aside in the church calendar for Mothers, doesn’t mean that they aren’t important, or that God doesn’t think motherhood is important. There is very good reason for us to give thank for our mothers.

Just look at how God has set up the job of being a mother. God has specifically set up mothers to bring new life into the world, and he does it in a way that shows us what it really means to be servants of one another. Every mother knows that as soon as she is pregnant everything in her life is different. She’s got to eat different foods, she’s got care for herself in a different way than she did before because she’s not just eating for one anymore. Her body isn’t just hers anymore; a good part of it is on loan to the other life that’s growing inside her. She suffers discomfort, sickness, weakness, stretch marks, etc. for the sake of a child. All you have to do is remember that fact to realize that we owe a great deal of gratitude to our mothers.
But Mom’s rewards are very often hidden, too. You know about that old yarn that says, “When I was a child I couldn’t believe how dumb my parents were, they didn’t seem to know anything, especially when I was a teenager. I was also amazed at how much my parents learned by the time I got to be 20.” Of course Mark Twain had a lot to say about children. He is well known for not wanting children around him. He said that as soon as children are born they should be put in a barrel with just a bung hole for air. When they get to be teenagers you close the bung hole. It’s the kids that get into trouble that are remembered, and mom is blamed. We all think we know just exactly how any given mom should raise her own children. And it is true, all mothers make their share of mistakes. Mother’s are sinful human beings. Every one of them will tell you they learned “on the job” and on the job training means making mistakes.
Add to all this the fact that motherhood isn’t highly respected these days. Of course we have this holiday, but on the whole women are told that a career is more important, and being a mother is a roadblock. And even more than that, It’s not uncommon for people to think that a woman would only stay home to take care of her children because she the can’t do anything else. These attitudes go against God’s way of thinking and we shouldn’t be surprised. The world always goes against the ways of God. If you have ever been mocked for being a mother… for doing what God would have you do as a mother… you know what St Peter is talking about in this text. When we follow God’s will for our lives there will always be trouble with the way the world thinks.
…do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.
We shouldn’t be surprised. We know what the problem is. Motherhood and Fatherhood are built on God’s ideas. He makes parents to serve children. Not in the way of giving children whatever they want, but serving them in the ways they need. In God’s plan, parents give of themselves to serve their children by caring for them, disciplining them, doctoring them, and teaching them. Parents are God’s gift of love to children. In God’s plan all human beings are made to be of service to each other in every part of their life. The problem is that we don’t want to serve… we want to be served. We don’t want to think about what other people need or want, we want to take care of what we need and want. In our sinful hearts anything that comes between us and our self satisfaction can’t be good. Our self centered hearts don’t want anything to do with anything that points us away from self service. We are guilty, too. But the sentiment is clearly expressed in the way that people don’t really respect motherhood the way God has set it up. As we think about it a little bit more, it shouldn’t surprise us, that’s what St. Peter is saying. “Don’t be surprised!” The true nature of sin is selfishness not service. People want to reject anything that smacks of service.
Now if people don’t have much use for the way God has set up families to work… if they reject the very practical gifts he gives in mothers and fathers, we should be even less surprised at the reaction to the gifts that he gives to us through Jesus. Just look at how Jesus was treated. He came to bring God’s forgiveness; he healed people of sickness, spoke about serving others, and even raised dead people back to life. He came to serve people by offering free forgiveness. And for all this, for doing God’s will, for serving people doing what God sent him to do, he was beaten, condemned and nailed to a cross. Jesus gave of himself. He came to serve people. He did what God wanted him to do and the world hated him and killed him. Now as he always does, God used that great evil for good. Because of Jesus death on the cross and his defeat of death through his resurrection, your sins are forgiven and you have eternal life through faith in him. Jesus turns his death in to your victory. “Jesus lives the victory’s won!” the hymn says. Your selfishness doesn’t condemn you anymore. That sin, along with all the others you have ever done are put away. The slate is wiped clean. You don’t have to worry about yourself any more. God has taken care of your greatest need. You are free to think about other people. You can serve, the way Mothers serve, the way Jesus serves. Jesus lived, died and rose again for you. You can give yourself for other people.
St. Peter is making one very important point here, though. He says that if we live the way God would have us live, we are going to suffer. It’s not going to be easy. Don’t think that it’s “something strange” that people hate you for the way you live. Jesus said it like this:
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.” (John 15:18-19, ESV)
I know you’ve seen this hate. People call you a bigot for holding fast to God’s Word. People say that you are intolerant because you say that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Family and friends don’t want to discuss their beliefs with you because you won’t compromise. I know about the pressure you are under to abandon the things you were taught when you were young. Or the pressure to measure the success of the church by numbers, instead of using God’s standards. St. Peter says that this is to be expected. Jesus said it, too. If you follow Jesus, if you live as a Christian you can expect to be falsely accused, mocked and rejected. As the world treated Jesus it will treat you.
So what do we do? Well, St. Peter says to rejoice. “Not likely, Pastor. I’m not going to be happy about suffering. Don’t you know that suffering is the enemy? Don’t you know that suffering is to be avoided at all cost? Don’t you know that suffering never did anyone any good?” Peter didn’t say to look for suffering, he didn’t say you had to love suffering, he says “rejoice” in it. That means that when it comes (and it will come to every Christian), you share in Christ’s suffering. That doesn’t mean that you’re suffering for your sins, Jesus has done all that already. It means that your suffering for doing good reminds you of Jesus suffering. It makes you less self dependant and more Christ dependant. Suffering pushes you to Jesus.
Jesus suffering is your salvation: You were born into sin and faced only the prospect of suffering God’s eternal wrath and punishment. But Jesus saves you from that. Jesus, God himself, became a human being, just like you. He suffered and died on the cross for your sins. He suffered the rejection of the world. He unjustly arrested, beaten and put to death. But even more importantly he suffered God’s rejection, he became our sin, and God punished him for our sin. He was condemned for the sins of the whole world. But, Jesus lives. He rose from the grave. He lives forever and gives you the promise of eternal life, too. For all the times that you sin and deserve God’s anger and punishment, even the times when you resent suffering, Jesus declares that your sins are forgiven because he died and rose again for you.
You see, your sufferings don’t earn God’s forgiveness for you. Jesus earned God’s forgivness for you. He gives you his suffering through faith in him. He gives you his suffering through the Word spoken to you. He gives you his suffering in his body and blood present in bread and wine. He says, “I’ve suffered for you. I was hung on the cross in your place. Through forgiveness of your sins, I give you credit for my suffering you aren’t hell bound any more.” We share in Jesus sufferings, when we gladly receive the forgiveness of sins that he offers. Jesus shares his suffering with you.
Dear suffering Christians; don’t think that it is strange that you suffer for being Christian. You will face trouble in this world. But also, don’t think that because you suffer God has forgotten about you. After all he gave his only begotten son for you, you are forgiven. He uses suffering in your life to remind you of that. Remember the words of St. Paul:
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18, ESV)
The glory that he’s talking about here is eternal life. That glory is yours because of Jesus.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.