Sunday, December 29, 2013

Luke 16:18; Funeral of Eleanor Fern Elizabeth Hoepker; December 29, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

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

Fern was a very private person. She didn't want a visitation or meal at the church. She didn't want the ladies of the church to have to go to all that work on her account. She didn't want all this fuss to be about her. And so, I won't have much to say about Fern today. But there is one question that comes up at every funeral. There is something you all want to hear about Fern. The question is: "Is Fern in heaven with the Lord?"

The best thing is, we can answer that question without talking a lot about her, just as Fern wanted. That's because the answer to the question about anyone's eternal destiny hasn't much to do with them anyway. If it were up to each of us, our eternal destiny would be death and separation from God in the eternal punishment of hell. St. Paul says in Ephesians,

You were dead in your trespasses and sins. (Ephesians 2:1, ESV)

And in Romans,

The mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; Indeed it cannot. (Romans 8:7, ESV)

We really don't have to talk too much about the sinful nature of human beings. We have all the proof we need right here.

The wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a)

We would have no funeral today if there were no sin. And I'm not saying Fern was any greater sinner than anyone else. I deserve to be here as well as her. You deserve to be here as well as her. What you and I deserve is this, and worse, for not keeping God's law perfectly. Death of those without faith is eternal punishment in hell. The proof of our sinful nature and our destiny without God is right before us.

And that brings us to the real reason to have a funeral. And brings us back full circle to what was true about Fern and the primary question, "Is Fern in heaven with the Lord?" When it comes to that question we do not find the answer in anything that we have done, or anything that Fern has done. Even though she was a faithful wife and mother, loved and cared for her family and her community. None of those things have anything to do with answering this question. Now understand, I'm certainly not saying there is no value in those things. We have people here who have been affected by Fern's life in very positive ways. And you all loved her for who she is. But in terms of salvation, none of those things are what is important. Because we are not saved by the things we do. Again St. Paul,

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8–9, ESV)

and the remainder of the verse from Romans that we read earlier,

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, ESV)

So not talking about all the good things that Fern has done is okay. You all know what those things are anyway. I don't need to recount them here from the pulpit. And it's not what she wanted. She wanted you to hear about the good gift that comes from God. The gift of Jesus Christ whose birth in the manger we just celebrated. Jesus is God born in human flesh. He is the object of our faith. He is God's answer to human sin. He is the reason that we can answer the question about Fern with an absolute positive "yes"! Jesus Christ carried Fern's sins to the cross. He died suffering God's anger over Fern's sin. Jesus was her substitute punishment. And she lived in faith every day in that sacrifice. And even though her sins were many, just like mine, and just like yours, she counted on Jesus to forgive them by the shedding of his blood. And that faith was God's gift to her. She received it when her name was spoken and water was poured over her head along with God's name. And it was a mouthful.

Eleanor Fern Elizabeth Miller, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

There is no better picture of God's gift of faith having nothing to do with anything we do, then that very moment. On Fern's baptismal certificate it has Luke 18:16:

But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:16, ESV)

and right after that verse 17 says:

Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.”” (Luke 18:17, ESV)

It doesn't mean you have to be a child. It means to trust like a child. That is what faith is, trust. We are saved by faith, that is trust, that what Jesus Christ did, the forgiveness that he won by his life, death, and resurrection, he did for me. What he did for me and for Fern he did for you. Jesus whole life lived, his bloody death on the cross, and his resurrection from death is all for you, for your forgiveness. So Fern's question, the real question about a funeral can be answered for you too. Through faith, death is not a path to separation from God in hell, but eternal life in heaven.

Oh, there's one more thing. After his death on the cross, Jesus rose again to new and physical life. And the water splashing on her head, was God's promise that Fern would be raised from the dead also. And you can trust in God's promises. All those who die in faith will be gathered together and rejoice together in the salvation of Jesus. It's the same faith. It's the same gift. It was God's gift to Fern. And it is God's gift to you. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Luke 2;1-20; The Nativity of Our Lord; December 25, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk 2:1-20, ESV)

(Outline from a sermon by Rev. Donald Deffner)

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

Christmas is for children. If you have any doubts, I’d like to point out just a few things to you. First, school’s out. If you are going to do anything that children want, you’ve got to start first with letting school out. There’s nothing better to lift the spirit of a child than to give them free time to play. There’s nothing like “no school” to maximize play time. Add to that six inches of snow, that magical liquid in power form that we’ve been blessed with, just in time to make it a real white Christmas. There is something wonderfully childlike in the air when the ground is covered with a fresh blanket of white. Think about the stories you’ve heard. Think about the “Christmas specials” you’ve seen on TV (although not all are really appropriate for children). All of it is aimed at children. And even the picture of that first Christmas has been made in the images a child can love and understand. Just think of the cubby cherubs, lazy lambs, cozy cows, and dozing donkeys that populate any proper manger scene. They all seem to be made with children in mind. Even here, last Sunday children played a major part of our celebration, by telling the story of Christmas to us again. That’s probably why Christmas is so appealing to so many people. It touches something of the child in us all. And so, Christmas is for children… and that’s not all bad, is it?

So how will you celebrate Christmas this year? What’s on tap for the rest of your day? I think that since Christmas is really for children, the best way to celebrate Christmas is as a child. Actually that is the only way to properly understand and celebrate Christmas. Christmas is for children because it all began with a child being born, and only when we become children ourselves can we look at Christmas and keep it properly.

After all, the familiar Christmas text, this account of Jesus birth is all about a child. There is one point that’s repeated several times. Firstborn son, baby, child... And I think its amazing that these words refer to the Creator of the Universe. Of all the ways God could have revealed himself to human beings, of all the ways he could have chosen to set us back on our heals, of all the ways he could have declared to us who he is, he chose to reveal himself as a little child. Instead of finding God in all his power and majesty (at least as we understand power and majesty), at Christmas time we remember, that we will find [God] wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger, a baby.

When we look in the manger and see that little child there, it tells us something about God, something important about who he is. If you think back to the Bible Stories you may have learned in Sunday school, you might notice that God has been in the habit of working through children. It was a child that told a military captain that he could be healed of leprosy. It was a child that Jesus showed as an example of the stature a person would have to have to enter the kingdom of heaven. A young boy gave up his lunch so that 5000 other people could eat. God often works in ways that are quite different than the ways we would work if we were creator of the universe. And in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, (Heb 1:2, ESV) a child, a baby born in a lowly manger and in lowly surroundings.

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Is 9:6, ESV)

It might be difficult for us to understand that a sweet little baby, wrapped in rags, crying in a food trough, is “Mighty God.” But that’s what we are told. If you come to the manger and peer in from a child’s perspective, with a child’s faith, you’ll know that it’s true. For you and me, it’s impossible to believe with out God planting that faith in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. That’s what happened to the Shepherds. After the angel told them what to look for, they went, they saw, and the told everyone what they had heard and seen.

But not every is ready to see Jesus and receive God “as a little Child.” There were lots of people in busy Bethlehem who were not. The angels didn’t appear to the Roman Legions, they didn’t appear to King Herod or Caesar. They didn’t appear to people in the busy inns and market places. They came to the Shepherds.

So how about you, are you ready to see Christmas from a child’s point of view, with the faith of a child? Can you see the baby of Christmas, for who he is? Can you see why he has come?

Remember what Jesus said, Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” (Lk 18:17, ESV) This is the only way to see him. This is the only way to have Christmas and eternal life through Jesus. But, everything in your nature shouts out against it, your pride, your ego and your need to be self reliant.

It is a childlike faith that admits “I need a Savior.” A child like faith that admits, “Without Jesus I am lost. I am a sinful person. I sin against God daily, in thought word and deed. I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness and I can’t earn it.” It’s that same faith that holds on to the promise of God that also comes with the child in the stable. “I have a Savior. He has done everything for me.”

The biggest obstacle to a child like faith is wanting God to be who we want him to be. We want Him on our terms and by our conditions. We want to live our lives without interference, unless we are in trouble. We want to think we know what’s best for us.

In faith we come to the stable this morning, knowing what we need because we know what’s in our hearts. We come to this baby, clinging onto him with a childlike faith that says, “This child is my Savior from the sin that fills my heart. This child is God’s promise to me and the whole world.”

Is there something that’s getting in the way of your Christmas joy today? Is there an empty place at the Christmas dinner table? Are you afraid and unsure what this next year will bring? Does your heart ache over a broken relationship that you can’t repair? Look with childlike faith at The Child. There, you’ll see God’s love for you, in a way that you can understand and feel and hold on to. The Child is God for you. Wrapped in the blanking is the one who is carrying all your sin and all the hurt and pain that goes with it. That peaceful child has come to bring you peace.

As you suffer remember that he too suffered. As you live with sin remember that he was born into a sinful world, to carry your sin and take it from you. He carried it all the way to the cross and he took it into death. There’s a painting I remember that shows the classical manger scene but draped all across it is a dark shadow of a cross. We have missed the greatest meaning of Christmas if we don’t look at the Child of the manger with the eyes of faith, and see also the cross. We can confess it with the faith of a child and say, “This is Jesus, who died on the cross to take away my sin.”

There’s another thing about children. If something wonderful happens to them you can’t make them be quite about it. They’ll tell you all about it, again and again. That’s part of the childlike faith, too. The shepherds did it. They returned to their work glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Lk 2:20, ESV) I’ll bet those shepherds made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child every day of their lives, over and over again, and whispered it in their last breath. They had seen the Christ, the very day he was born. God had told them it was so through angel song. That’s the kind of thing you can’t hold in, especially when you have faith like a child, especially when you see Christmas from a child’s point of view.

Christmas is for children. There’s no secret to seeing Christmas from a child’s perspective. It’s what children do naturally. They do it because they are children. You are God’s very own child, connected to God through a childlike faith in Jesus. It is childlike when you remember that Jesus is God’s gift to you. When you gaze on that baby in wonder remembering that he was born, lived, died and rose again for you, that’s really seeing Christmas with the faith of a child. Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

1 John 4:7–16; The Eve of the Nativity of Our Lord; December 24, 2013;

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

Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (1 John 4:7–16, ESV)

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

It seems easy to love tonight. The baby in the manger and Mary and Joseph and the angels and shepherds all looking on. Even people outside of the church have love in their hearts tonight. And there's no question about it,

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

Christmas is about love. The gift giving, family gatherings, the crowded stores, the red kettles, it's all around us. The whole world glows with love at Christmas. But it won't be very long before you hear the refrain, "Keep Christmas in your heart all of the year." And it's a good idea, but it doesn't seem to follow through. After the news reports about all the wonderful things people are doing, soon the paper will be filled with disaster, murder, theft, war, and cruelty. The love of Christmas will be put on the shelf for next year. The magic of Christmas fades away into the reality of what it means to be human. Sin abides. Death abides.

The reality of human beings is exactly what the catechism is talking about. The reality of human beings is exactly the reason why Holy Baptism is so important.

Holy Baptism - Fourth

What does such baptizing with water indicate?

It indicates that the Old Adam in us should by daily contrition and repentance be drowned and die with all sins and evil desires, and that a new man should daily emerge and arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Our old sinful nature has its way. We so easily fall under its control. The sins of our heart and are evil desires crop up and cause trouble, and pain, and sorrow, and even death. It is exactly the opposite of love. Exactly the opposite of what we celebrate at Christmas time.

And you could point outside of yourself to your neighbors who don't keep Christmas all the year, but the problem is closer to home. If God is love, and you fail to show love, then you do not belong to God. If you do not belong to God your eternal destiny is not with him, but instead you are separated from him in eternal punishment.

And how good does your love have to be? You can answer that question by simply thinking about what your lack of love does. When you fail to show love at any time does it have consequences? The answer is yes. You have relationships that are broken. You have enemies. You have family members that you can't tolerate. Your workplace is full of rumors and conflict. In order for love to have its complete effect in the world love must be always perfect. After all, God's love is perfect and your should be as well. Anything less than perfect love has a butterfly effect of trouble, and pain, and sorrow, and even death.

But it's Christmas. Love is in the air. And so it should be. Because God is love. And love was born in a manger. That squirming little baby is more than a symbol of love. He is true love.

In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.

And that life that St. Paul is talking about in this text is a life of love. It comes because God has assured us that we are part of him. He has taken care of our sin. The baby in the manger, Jesus Christ, is the answer to the world's sin, the worlds lack of love. The manger is the beginning. The cross is the point. The resurrection is the proof. Jesus Christ, true God, and true man, born of the Virgin Mary, was crucified, suffered and was buried, dead. The love of God is shown to the world by his bearing the punishment for our sin. It is God's act of true love to sacrifice himself on the cross for the sins of the whole world. That's your sin. That's my sin. That's you lack of perfect love and mine. Taken to the cross and killed with Jesus. So every time we struggle to do the right thing. Every time we fall short of God's perfect expectation. Every time we out right do what we know we should not do. The forgiveness of the cross is there. Christians are not perfect. They are like everyone else, we struggle with sin every day. But repentance is faith that Jesus death on the cross has done something about our sin. Repentance is living in the knowledge that when we take our sin to the cross, we know Jesus was crucified for it, and we find forgiveness there.

And there is also the resurrection. Jesus dead three days raises to new life. Sin is done away with. It is left in the grave. The resurrection is God's stamp of approval on what Jesus did. But it is also a promise that we can live in a way that shows God's love. We can live a new life. Again, this is why Holy Baptism is so important. Not only is it a drowning of our sinful nature, but it's a connection to our new life.

Where is this written?

St. Paul writes in Romans, chapter six: "We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life." (Romans 6:4)

If we are connected to Jesus in such a way, if he has raised us from our death in sin, how can we not show that love to everyone around us.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

That's the new life. That is love. To proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ born in a manger, dead on the cross, and resurrected to new life. And through our connection to Jesus through faith and Holy Baptism we have God's love. And if it is God's love it is perfect love. And if it is perfect love it flows out not because we do it so well, but because it is God's.

That's the new life we have to live. That's the love we have to give. Why the manger is so important. Because the manger is the beginning of real love come into the world.

So, Christmas is the perfect time to show our love. Through gifts given, family time shared, and care for those who are in great need. It's the easiest time of year to connect what we do to the one who gave us love first. Because the cliché is true, Jesus is indeed reason for the season. The joy of the season is the baby born, but even more importantly the baby grown-up and crucified.

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.


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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Galatians 3:23-4:7; Advent Service Three; December 18, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God. (Galatians 3:23—4:7, ESV)

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

"In the fullness of time." Less than a week from now we will celebrate "the fullness of time". But it's more than celebrating the birth of The Baby. It's more than putting Jesus back in the nativity scene. Or making Jesus the Reason for the Season.

When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5,ESV)

The fullness of time is about our adoption as sons (and daughters). And it is about what our adoption actually means. We were captive under the law. Under the law we are unable to save ourselves. Under the law we are required to be perfect. Any small infraction of the law breaks the whole. Under the law we are, because of our sinful nature, hell bound.

Our lives are lived to keep us busy enough to avoid the reality, numb our guilt. We live one event to the next, with no time in between to breathe or think. We think it's better that way. We think that's the best way to get the most out of life. We need to experience all we can. But the one thing we should see in our busy lives is our sin. Sin is the reason for the presence of evil. It corrupts everything we do. Sin brings death. Death makes everything we do empty. And it's even worse at this time of year. Far from being a relaxing time spent with family and friends, these holidays are mach speed busyness. Satan has you distracted. In your effort to make it the best holiday season ever, he reinforces the lie that what's important is family time, gifts given, and the joy you should be feeling at the season. It seems as if every event leading up to Christmas is an effort to mask the real reason for the season. That we are sinful people in need of a Savior.

But, "in the fullness of time" we are no longer slaves to our sinful nature, but we are set free, justified by grace. This is the gift of Holy Baptism. It is water poured on us that works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe. Water alone couldn't do such wonderful things. Water alone couldn't connect us to the crucified, yet living, baby born in a manger. Or as the catechism says:

Certainly not just water, but the word of God in and with the water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this Word of God in the water. For without God's word the water is plain water and no Baptism. But with the word of God it is a Baptism, that is, a life-giving water, rich in grace, and a washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit, as St. Paul says in Titus, chapter three, "He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

The water and God's name are a rebirth and renewal, life giving. The work of the Holy Spirit through God's promises. Adoption as sons and daughters. With all the benefits and inheritances that come as a natural consequence of adoption. It's not just water. It's water and God's word and faith. Faith is clinging to the promises of God in the sure and certain hope of the forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross. Faith is turning with sin to the one who offers forgiveness through the cleansing found in the water and the embedded Word of God.

There is no better way to understand God's grace, that is his undeserved love for us, then to see baptism for what it is. Not a washing that we do to ourselves, but a washing that God does to us, for us. It is his promise that makes it what it is. It is his promise that gives us the forgiveness of sins. It is his promise that gives us life and salvation. It is trust in these promises (that is what faith is) that gives us all these benefits of inheritance.

In the stable, in the manger, is the one through whom God is making his promise true. The angels sing. The shepherds worship. Mary and Joseph stand in awe. The baby is God's answer to the problem of human sin, your sin. He brings you forgiveness through his perfect life lived, his death on the cross where he suffers eternal hell for you, and his resurrection to new life as your promise of the very same. The baby is God himself in human flesh. He comes in the fullness of time to give you all these gifts. And you are connected directly to the baby in the manger through the washing of the new birth in the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Mark 16:16; Advent Service Two; December 11, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mt. Ayr, Iowa;

Holy Baptism - Second

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)

Advent: a Babe, a Thief and a Font.

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

A Babe

It starts with a baby in a manger, and a mother and her husband, and angels and shepherd's. It is God come into the world in human flesh.

"Away in a Manger."

That's what we think about when you think of Advent. Maybe our talking about Holy Baptism in this pre-Christmas season seems a little off. We'd rather focus on the cuddly little baby in swaddling clothes, angels singing, shepherds kneeling at manger side, Mary and Joseph beaming at the birth.

"Angels we have heard on high."

After all that is what Christmas is about; joy and happiness in new life, comfort and joy.

"And little Lord Jesus no crying he makes."

We'd be perfectly happy to sit there in the manger with the strangely quiet newborn.

But the joy of the manger only comes from the knowledge of what the child is come to do. The joy we have at Christmas is in the rescue that God offers in the cradle that goes to the cross. The comfort, the Good News that Jesus is born, is in knowing that this tiny baby is the sin bearer of the world. He comes to bring forgiveness of sins, rescue from death and the devil, and give eternal salvation, to you, through faith and the font.

"God and sinners reconciled."

Without the promises delivered by God's Word and water. There is no comfort and joy in Christmas. Because in the font through faith God applies to you everything that Jesus did, from birth, perfect life, to perfect sacrifice on the cross. These are the benefits the baptism gives. These are the benefits that baptism gives for you! As Martin Luther says, "for where there is forgiveness of sins there is life and salvation."

"Nails, spear shall pierce him through, the cross he bore for me, for you;"

A Thief

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43, ESV)

Funny then, that when we are considering the benefits of Holy Baptism, the example we give is a thief who on the cross died without it. One thief crucified with our Lord, curses the manger's child, the other begs to be remembered. One cries out in faith. The other rejects God on the cross.

"Of the Father's love begotten."

Faith clings to the newborn King who hangs naked and bleeding and dying on the cross. The thief there with him saw him for who he was. Jesus was present with him in his greatest need. He saw his Savior and the forgiveness that was there on the cross for him. He receives directly from Jesus exactly the benefit that baptism gives.

[Jesus] works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

The thief had no doubt about his sin. It was there with him in the flesh, written in his own just, bloody punishment. And his only hope was hanging unjustly next to him.

"Born to give them second birth."

And your need is great. The babe born in the stable is proof. Your sin pushes you toward your own just death. Sin lives in your flesh and you see it every day. You see it in the family holiday gathering that should be joyful but instead is filled with angst. You see it when you know what you should do for your spouse. You see it when you struggle to crawl out of bed on Sunday morning. You see it when you try to push your own self interest aside for the sake of your neighbor. You see it in the excuses that come into your mind when you are called upon to support your church. And the just punishment for all these is death. Not because your sins are so grievous, but because you are such a grievous sinner. Sin is living in a broken relationship with God. Sin is not loving God with your whole heart, soul, and mind, as God demands. And the family gathering, your struggles to do what is right, your selfishness, and your laziness are the result. Your relationship with God is broken. Your sins cling to your flesh. You need to be washed clean.

"No more let sins and sorrows grow nor thorns infest the ground."

A Font

You stand by the font and see the water in it is what you need. When you see dirt on your hands, you look for water to wash them clean. When you see your sin, you look for forgiveness in Jesus and the water in the font. In the font, you see the cross and the one who forgives. He is present next to you there in the Word to satisfy your greatest need.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.” (Isaiah 1:18, ESV)

It is a cleansing flood of Word and water. Word: God's promises come true in Jesus Christ. Water: washing your sin from you. All in God's name: "I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." All from God for forgiveness, rescue and life.

So we prepare for Christmas joy with repentance. Repentance is faith. Clinging in faith to the babe in the manger and the crucified and risen Lord. Having no doubt about our sin, and no doubt about our Savior.

"Joy to the world the Lord is come!"

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

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Romans 15; 4-13; Second Sunday in Advent; December 8, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mt. Ayr, Iowa;

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” And again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples extol him.” And again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse will come, even he who arises to rule the Gentiles; in him will the Gentiles hope.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Romans 15:4-13, ESV)

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

Hope. Now there’s a good word for Advent. Hope. As Christmas gets closer, I’m sure you’ve heard statements like these: “I hope I get a bicycle for Christmas.” “I hope I get and American Girl doll.” “I hope I get a ten point buck.” “I hope I don’t get any socks.” “I hope I get a new shotgun.” “I hope…” “I hope…”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

Well, there’s something different there isn’t there? The hope that St. Paul tells us about, in fact, promises is ours, isn’t quite like those gift receiving hopes is it. Well, how about, “I hope my family stays healthy.” “I hope milk prices don’t go any higher.” “I hope the family conflict is resolved and we don’t fight anymore over the holidays.” “I hope all those delinquent members come back to church.” "I hope things will work out in Mt. Ayr" “I hope the church figures out its budget.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

Well, maybe that’s not it either. Although those things are all good, that doesn’t seem to be exactly what God is talking about here, is it? Everybody wants to have hope. You want hope. Your parents and grandparents wanted to have hope. People who never darken the doors of a church want hope. The question about hope is, exactly what is it? What makes hope, well hopeful?

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

But there’s more to hope, as God promises it, than just feeling secure, or being happy with the way things are going for my life. In fact, some of the most hopeful people, had troubles, more than you and I can even imagine.

Noah had hope. He built a monstrosity of a boat no where near water, only because God asked him to. He was the laughing stock of the neighborhood. No one would listen to him when he said “the end is near.” He knew the massive death that was coming to all of them. Yet, he had hope.

Abraham had hope, even though he was 100 years old. God promised that he would have a son that would be the key to God’s promise of a Savior. Then when he was born, God said to kill him as a sacrifice only to save him at the last moment. Abraham had hope. Even in the face of what seemed impossible.

Moses marched into Pharaoh’s court, one man against a whole nation, he did it with hope. Pharaoh didn’t listen. Yet, Moses believed beyond all reason that God would do as He promised. Moses had hope.

These examples of hope come from the Bible and are summarized in the wonderful chapter of Hebrews 11. It goes on and on, one hopeful, faithful follower of God after another, described by St. Paul here in Romans:

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

You see, that kind of hope is more than people on the street are talking about when they say, “I hope…” Hope for a believer has some Spiritual content, in fact it has Holy Spiritual content. Moses, Abraham, Noah and all the others had hope, but it wasn’t just positive feelings, it was hope placed in the promises of God. There is no doubt that God would do what he said he would do. They didn’t always see it, they had their doubts, but God’s promise is always true. One of my seminary professors said that hope is “quietly waiting on God.” I like that. I have hope in God, that doesn’t mean that everything in my life is going to be smooth sailing, it means the no matter what happens, God will resolve it properly.

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” (Isaiah 30:15a, ESV)

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, ESV)

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1, ESV)

We hope for what is not seen, that means, even when things are rough, even when we can’t see the good in something, we quietly wait on God to set it right. That’s hope.

May the God of hopep fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. (Rom 15:13, ESV)

But there is more to it than that. We can’t just place our hope in a generic ‘god’ who promises good things for us. We have no connection to God without Jesus. That’s exactly what St. Paul is saying when he says,

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given… (Rom 15:8, ESV)

Jesus Christ is God fulfilling His promises. Jesus Christ is the Hope of God’s people. One of my favorite hymns is “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less.” It talks about the hope we have in Christ.

My hope is built on nothing less Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
No merit of my own I claim But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

Verse 3:

His oath, his covenant, his blood Sustain me in the raging flood;
When all supports are washed away, He then is all my hope and stay.
On Christ, the solid rock, I stand; All other ground is sinking sand.

That’s where our hope is founded, in God’s answered promise in Jesus Christ. God’s promised forgiveness given to us through Jesus precious blood spilled out on the cross for us. Since God sent his son to death on our behalf, we can have a sure and certain hope that everything else in our lives works out for our benefit. It is based on the forgiveness of sins. Jesus death on the cross is our forgiveness. In his death our relationship to God has restored. Holy baptism is our connection to Jesus life death and resurrection and his our adoption into all God's promises. If he takes care of our greatest need, forgiveness, he will take care of all other needs.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32, ESV)

That’s the hope found in Jesus; Jesus in the manger, born of the virgin; Jesus living every day just like you and me; Jesus on the cross bleeding and dying; Jesus walking from the tomb alive again; Jesus rising from the dead promising us new life. Because of Jesus we can quietly wait on God to do what God does. Amen.

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

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Acts 8:26-40; Advent Service One; December 4, 2013;


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

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.” (Acts 8:26–40, ESV)

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

Look! Here is water, but it's not just plain water. It is water combined with God's Word. It is water and God's Word together as God commanded. This water, here in the font, is special cleansing water from God.

"It is nothing else than a divine water, not that the water in itself is nobler than other water but that God's Word and commandment are added to it" (Martin Luther, Large Catechism IV, 14).

The Ethiopian eunuch saw it as just that. God's precious gift of new life in the Savior who came in the flesh.

He was riding down the road in his chariot reading the Word from the Prophet Isaiah. Philip came jogging beside. He saw him reading and asked, "Do you know what you're reading? Do you understand what it is?"

"How can I unless someone explains it?"

Imagine Philip's surprise when the Ethiopian pointed to the text and read these words:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”” (Acts 8:32b–33, ESV)

The Ethiopian read the words but he didn't see the meaning. An Angel of the Lord sent Philip at that very moment to explain. And look at what Philip does. He puts Jesus at the center of the text. The eunuch was looking at all the pieces of the puzzle spread out on the table and Philip shows him the box. The picture that makes the puzzle clear is Jesus.

Philip was only doing what Jesus had done for them. Beginning with that very text, from the prophet Isaiah, he explained that the sheep that was slaughtered for the sins of the world was Jesus Christ. And then he moved on to the rest of Scripture and explained how it was all about Jesus.

Jesus had done the very same for them on his resurrection day. Remember the account of the disciples walking down the road to Emmaus. Two disciples were walking dejected at the death of Jesus. The resurrected Jesus appeared to them but hidden, they didn't know who he was. And he explained to them that all the Scripture was about his life, death and his resurrection. All about his saving work for the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, even Ethiopian eunuchs.

So Philip, directed by an Angel and led by the Spirit, taught the Word of God. And, when this government official from Africa saw a pool of water standing in the desert he wanted what God was offering. He wanted forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ. He wanted the cleansing that was offered in the water connected to God's word. "What's to prevent me?" And the answer is: "Nothing!"

"All nations!" Ethiopians, Greeks, Australians, Brazilians, South Africans, Swedes and even Americans. All are to be made disciples through God's work in Holy Baptism. God's word and command connected with the water in the font.

In a few weeks we will gaze in wonder at a baby born in a cattle feed trough. He is not an ordinary baby. He is the sheep to be led to slaughter. He is the one explained by Philip to the Ethiopian. He is the son of God, born in human flesh, sacrificed on the cross for the forgiveness of sin. And not just any sin, but your sin. Your baptism in this water is your connection to the one who was born in a stable and hung on a cross. In this divine water, by the power of God's word your sins are washed away, and you are forgiven. Because you are included in the all nations that are to be baptized.

You know your sin and your need. The law in God's word points it out to you. It shows itself as you fall short of your own expectations for your life. But we are not just talking about disappointment. You see in your own heart self-centeredness that prevents you from doing the right thing. You hear the words that come out of your mouth that are hurtful to even your family. You see the homeless man on the road and avert your eyes rather than help. You know the broken relationships that are scattered through your life. And you know your fault in their breaking. You know your regrets, the things that should have been. Your tossing and turning in the middle of the night wishing things were different. These are all falling short of God's expectations for your life. These are all of breaking of his commandments, any one of which condemns you to eternal separation from him in hell.

There is no escaping what you deserve. But instead you get the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger. You get the babe grown into a man hanging on a cross suffering the punishment of your sin. You get the water connected to his Word that promises that his death on the cross is your death and punishment. It is the power of the water and the word and the font. It is the power of Jesus for you. Amen.

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

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

1 Timothy 2:1-6; Thanksgiving Eve; November 27, 2013;

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

First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time.” (1 Timothy 2:1–6, ESV)

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

It seems like such a simple thing. Throw away words even. "I'll pray for you." A bit like "Hello, how are you?" The question asked when we greet someone but we really don't want to know the whole story. A bit like Andy Warhol's (im)famous Campbell's Soup can painting. When people see it they say things like. I have a can just like that in my kitchen! It's too simple. I could have done that! That's not art!

How can prayer do anything? It's too simple. Words spoken into space. Our Sunday prayer list is long. We don't know most of the people on it. We've heard the names so many times. How can these short petitions mean anything. Wouldn't a long meditation in the heart be more meaningful to God then speaking these prewritten words? And besides, often our well meaning promises of prayer go unfulfilled. "Please pray for me", "of course" slips off of the tongue as easily as "The Lord be with you." is answered by "and also with you."

To pray is a part of what it means to be a Christian. Christians pray. And yet prayer is difficult. St. Paul urges young pastor Timothy to lead his congregation in prayer. And not only that, but he tells him what should be prayed. He uses four words that are similar but have different nuances. Prayer is to cover all the bases. Supplications are asking for things. Prayers are speaking to God about our thoughts and desires. Intercessions are praying for those in need. And thanksgivings well, that's why we're here this evening. We give thanks to God for all the wonderful blessings that he's given. We are to pray for all people, says Paul, especially those in authority. We are to pray that God would move them to do what he has given them to do to care for their people. Prayer is about all these things.

It's next though, that Paul gets to the heart of the matter. Prayer is pleasing to God because he wants all people to be saved. At the heart of our prayer is to be prayers for God's word to be proclaimed to all people. At the heart of our prayer is for those that we pray for to receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is Jesus after all who prayed for you and me. He actually desires our salvation more than we do! During his life on earth and even still at the right hand of the father he continues to pray for his church. And those prayers were answered whenever faith was given to you through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and water. Those prayers are answered every time you open your mouth and Jesus Christ passes over your lips as you eat the bread and wine and, in, with, and under is his very body and blood.

But as faithful as Jesus is, and was, in prayer we are not. In fact most often our prayer comes at the point of necessity. And most often our prayers are self-centered. We only pray for those in need when we are asked and even then our prayers are lacking. Paul gives instruction on prayer because we are unfaithful in it. He tells us what to pray and who to pray for because we need to be told. And he tells us why we pray. We pray because Jesus is the faithful mediator who lifts our prayers to the Father. Through faith and the work of the Holy Spirit we have a relationship with Jesus Christ. We are children of God through faith and the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus Christ on the cross. And God the Father promises to answer the prayers of his children.

When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray he gave them the "Our Father." It is the simple perfect prayer. It asks for what we need and want. It's like Warhol's deceptively simple Campbell's tomato soup can. We pray for God's will and his kingdom. We pray for our daily bread. We pray for forgiveness. All of it in a simple way that we can remember. The Lord's prayer is always the perfect prayer. And when we pray it we pray for ourselves and all those who need the things that are prayed.

And at the center of that prayer too, is forgiveness. Forgiveness puts the "our" in "Our Father". Listen again to Luther:

And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

What does this mean?

We pray in this petition that our Father in heaven would not look at our sins, or deny our prayer because of them. We are neither worthy of the things for which we pray, nor have we deserved them, but we ask that He would give them all to us by grace, for we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. So we too will sincerely forgive and gladly do good to those who sin against us.

The Lord's Prayer isn't a backup prayer to pray when you don't know what else to pray. The Lord's Prayer is prayer as St. Paul commands Timothy. It's the tomato soup of prayer. Simple, nutritious, easy to use. These words are words to pray because God, our Father promises to hear. These words are words to pray because we, as Christians, live them.

This is what St. Paul means when he says:

that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.

No matter what words we pray, weather the Lord's prayer or other prayer, our lives become the prayers we pray. We pray for God's will and daily bread. God uses us to provide these things to our neighbors. We pray for forgiveness, and God uses us to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ here, in our community and around the world.

We shouldn't dismiss prayer (especially the Lord's Prayer) simply because it seems too simple. Like those who dismiss The Soup Can painting. It is a simple but necessary part of our Christian life. So, as you gather at the Thanksgiving table this week, remember to pray. Maybe pray the Lord's Prayer this year. It is everything that Paul tells us here to do and it recognizes all the gifts we have received so graciously from God, our Father's hand. Amen.

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

Saturday, November 16, 2013

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2013;


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

Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)

(from an sermon by Rev. Rick Marrs)

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

Our God is a working God. In fact it's what the Bible is all about. God is at work from the beginning, Genesis 1 to Revelation 21. He creates the world and everything in it by the word. Trees, flowers, birds, the stars of the heavens, the fish in the sea, the planets and the asteroids whizzing about space. And people. He created Adam and Eve, our first parents, and breathed into them the breath of life. And he placed them in the paradise of the garden of Eden which he created for them. Human beings are God's work. And after six days he took a Sabbath rest.

But the paradise of Adam and Eve may not be exactly what you're thinking of when you hear the word paradise. For you and me paradise is soaking up the sun in a Hawaiian beach cabana. The waiter walks through the sand bringing us a Blue Hawaii or one of those rum drinks with a little umbrella. In the beach hotel, the employees are scuttering around to take care of our smallest wants. Our vision of paradise is people working for us. But in Genesis the first thing God does is different:

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV)

Adam and Eve don't fall into sin until Genesis 3. In Genesis 2 God puts them to work. We think, maybe you've even been told, that work is the result of sin. So the picture in your mind of paradise is a Hawaiian vacation. But our working God has given us work to do, as a gift. He did not create human beings to the idle-ly lazing around, but tending the universe that he created for us. God gave Adam and Eve, and you and me, work to do, and it was good.

But Adam and Eve were not content to live and work in the garden. They wanted the one thing that wasn't theirs to have. They denied their relationship with God by eating the lies of Satan and the fruit that God told them to avoid. They wanted to be their own gods. They broke their perfect relationship with God and fell into rebellion. So, God ejected them from the garden. And he sent them out to work. This work was not the same as before:

“cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.”(Genesis 3:17ff)

Now work is difficult and dangerous. The cursed creation doesn't respond to human work the way that it should. The work remains. But work, in and of itself, is still a good gift of God. God uses it to provide for all of our needs. God gives you your daily work to do. It is a good gift from him to provide for you and your family. But not only that, your work is given to you to do good for the people that you serve. Teachers are there to serve their students and parents. Maintenance workers maintain buildings for the sake of those who live and work in them. Garbage collectors haul away the garbage so that people can live and work in clean places. Stay-at-home moms serve their children by taking care of them. Car salesmen and auto mechanics work so people can have transportation so that they can get to work. Pastors teach you God's word so that you can work freed from the guilt of your sin. People in grocery stores work so we can have food. Grown children take care of their elderly parents. Elderly and shut in folks have opportunity to pray for the work of others. These are the things we been given to do. They are our vocation. Not our vacation. Our vocation is the work that God gives us to do to serve one another in the places that he has given us to serve. And I'm not just talking about are paid jobs either. We are given to serve one another as parent, child, friend, neighbor, and good citizen. All of these things have their associated tasks and work. When God calls us to serve our neighbors in these ways we are the "masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.[1]" it's all connected to exactly what St. Paul writes:

If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)

We see examples of hard workers in the Bible, too. Noah built the ark to save the living creatures from the flood. Abraham had huge flocks and herds. Moses was a Shepherd before he shepherded God's people out of slavery in Egypt. Paul was a tent maker. In our text here he talks about making his own living that way. And Jesus, our Savior, was a carpenter. Hard work, difficult work, has been around and promoted by God since Adam and Eve fell into sin.

But Jesus didn't come to give us an example of how to work hard. His vocation was so much greater than that. Jesus is the word made flesh, the very same word through which God made the world. He is the very word of God that came to restore human beings and all creation to a right relationship with God. His life, death, and resurrection are the work, the vocation, he came to do. Jesus Christ serves sinners. He serves us sinners by taking the punishment we deserve for being lazy and idle. He us serves sinners by removing the need for us to earn our salvation with our good works. We are saved by the gift of faith in all the Jesus Christ has done for us. We do not have to do good works for ourselves. Jesus has done all the good works we need. Now, we are able to serve our neighbors. We don't do good works focused on God's reaction. We do good works focused on our neighbors needs.

Our God is a working God who is blessed us with work to do. In response to God's saving work for us in Jesus Christ, we are privileged to work in the world for the sake of our neighbors. Amen.

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

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 114). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

1 John 3:1-3; The Festival of All Saints; November 3, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 3:1–3, ESV)

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

What kind of love is this?

Country-western singer Lyle Lovett sings a song about his family called "Family Reserve". It's far from a glowing review of the perfect family. It's a dark yet realistic view of who they are, framed by how they died. People who die because they made foolish decisions. People who drink themselves to death. A boy who dies choking because his mother doesn't know what to do. And even one who dies ironically owning his own funeral home. It's a picture of an imperfect family, yet one loved by the singer.

In a way this is our family of faith, also. Imperfect, plagued by sin, self-interest, wrongheadedness, and yet loved by God. This is the kind of love the Father has for us. It is an amazing contradiction that the perfect God would choose to call you and I, sinful human beings, his children. It's clear that no human being (save one) deserves to be called God's child. And yet St. John calls us to look and see the love of God for those he calls to be his children.

All Saints Day is, in a way, a look back at the family album. We remember especially those who have died in the faith this year. It is a temptation to say only glowing things about them, just like we did at their funerals. And yet, now with the Lord, they were sinners all. All of them, to the last one, were sinners deserving not what they received as God's children, but instead eternal punishment. In fact, not a single one of them even deserved to be a child of God. And yet on this day we call them saints. Saints not in terms of the way the world would think, that we somehow held them as being perfect examples and perfect people. But instead saints saved by God. Saints loved by God in such a way that he saved them in spite of their sinfulness.

As we began our service today we did a remembrance of God's adoption of us in our Holy Baptism. It is the fullness of God's love for us that he calls us his children through this wonderful gift. Listen again to the words we read:

What benefits does Baptism give?

It works forgiveness of sins, rescues from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe this, as the words and promises of God declare.

Which are these words and promises of God?

Christ our Lord says in the last chapter of Mark, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16)

Notice there is not a "deserving" word in the whole remembrance. But benefits and promises given in God's Word. This is the kind of love St. John calls us to see. Boundless undeserved love from God given to us no account sinners.

What kind of love is this?

Well, in order to understand this love, we need to have a clear understanding of sin. I don't want you to get the impression that the sins of our relatives, or your sins, or mine, are to be taken lightly. They are not lovable minor personality quirks. Sin is far more serious than that. In fact, we have All Saints Day where we remember those who have died, because of sin. We have funerals because of sin. We live every day in the shadow of our own death because of sin. Death is the fundamental human problem. Death is the fundamental consequence of sin. No one gets out of life alive. And every year, the first Sunday in November, when we remember those who have died, we also remember the fact that we will all die from our sin.

But there is a fundamental difference for those who are called children of God, the family of faith. In Holy Baptism we are rescued from death even though death will come. We are rescued from eternal separation from God in hell. Where death for sinners would normally be the gateway to eternal punishment, those clinging in faith to the cross of Christ receive forgiveness of sins. And this forgiveness is not because we Saints are such good people. We know that's true simply by recounting the lives of those who we remembered today. We have forgiveness because God forgives in Jesus Christ. What kind of love does the father have for us? St. John gives answer:

In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10, ESV)

On the cross, Jesus Christ offered up himself as the punishment for sin. The only one truly worthy to be called God's child, hung on the cross and suffered God's righteous anger over your sin, and my sin, and the sins of all those on the Role of Saints. Through the wonderful gift of faith, based in God's grace and God's love alone, we receive forgiveness instead of punishment.

St. John also says it in the well-known words:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16–17, ESV)

but the words "for God so loved the world" don't mean God loved the world so much. The word "so" could also be translated, "in this way". And then when we read what comes before including that translation we see what kind of love God has for us.

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God [loved the world in this way], that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:14–17, ESV)

God's love for the world extends to us through the outstretched arms of Jesus Christ offering you and me forgiveness of our sin. It's not a sweeping of sin under the rug, but a sweeping away of sin under the cross. It's not making light of sin, but rather taking the full seriousness of sin to account. God's love is such a love, that he can do no other.

See what kind of love the Father has given to [you], that [you, sinner that you are] should be called [child] of God; and so [you] are a sinner forgiven by Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Revelation 14:6-7; The Festival of the Reformation (observed); October 27, 2013;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people. And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”” (Revelation 14:6–7, ESV)

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

There is a little problem in this text. It's the clash of two phrases that hit our ears in a very difficult way. First, there are the words "eternal gospel". We know that the "gospel" is "good news". But how can it be "good news" when the "hour of judgment has come." It doesn't sound like good news at all to say that it's time for judgment.

For you and me, those who live in repentance and faith, we have no reason to fear judgment. It is "good news" that our Savior is coming to bring completion to all that he has begun. His life, death, and resurrection are all put together to restore the whole creation when he returns. It is the full goal of the Christian life to see that day. But for those who do not listen, those who have rejected the Savior, those who do not live in faith, the time for repentance will end. And in fact after this text the description of God's judgment is stark. The pronouncement of judgment on those who reject him is full. So again, how can that be "good news"?

God's announcement of judgment leaves no middle ground. There is no wiggle room when the angel's voice booms out of the sky. Jesus doesn't talk about separating the sheep from the goats and having another nice little category of people who are really nice but don't quite believe. (See Matthew 25:31-46) It just sounds pretty harsh. It seems a little bit overly judgmental. Especially to our modern ears that hear from every other source that "Love Wins" and "Who am I to judge?" And these days, when everyone seems to be divided, we don't really want to hear another voice added with that kind of separation. What we'd rather here is "God is the God of second chances." Is the church just another voice urging separation and division?

The truth is the world is broken by sin.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” (Romans 8:22–23, ESV)

We groan because the world is in need of restoration. We groan because our bodies deteriorate because of the effects of sin. We groan looking forward in eager anticipation of our redemption. We groan because something is wrong and Jesus Christ is the only solution. The redemption only happens in Jesus Christ. Those who reject him only have eternal separation and condemnation. There are no second chances when the end comes. There will be no time to say "Oops, I didn't understand." The sickle is about to be sent to the fields. The harvest will happen. The weeds will be separated from the grain. The weeds will be burnt in unquenchable fire. Then, the time for repentance will be ended. So again I say, how can that be "good news"?

Well, the "good news" is that the day is at hand, but it has not yet come. Today, in your hearing, The Word of Grace is being proclaimed. Today, the sun still shines, the night has not yet come. The ax is laid at the root of the trees. The trees are not being cut down, yet. Today, there is still time.

The stark reality of eternal separation from God and eternal punishment in hell is a frightening proposition. Especially in light of an honest appraisal of our own sinfulness. If we brush away our protective shell. If we look beneath the mask of goodness that we present to the world. And we see the sin that lurks in our hearts. And we compare it to God's righteous demand of perfection. There is little we can do but turn to God for mercy. With the judgment coming on our own, in our own condition there is no hope. We say what St. Paul says,

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

Where is our confidence? It is in Jesus Christ alone. He has changed our judgment from hell to heaven. He is the one who saves us from our body of death. His death on the cross removes the punishment we deserve. We cling in faith to Jesus promise that all that he has done is ours. Faith alone in Jesus Christ. It is not what we deserve. It is grace, God's undeserved love. In the face of pending judgment there is no place to turn but the cross, and Christ, and the forgiveness that he gives to us there. This is the "good news."

And there is more. This is not only "good news" for you and me. It is good news for the whole world that the time is coming but is not yet here. We have time to do what we have been called to do.

Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” (Romans 13:11–12, ESV)

St. Paul is not just urging us to do good things. He's urging us to proclaim good things, "good news". The judgment is at hand. Now is the time to wake from sleep. Satan and his agents are working full force in the world. They are determined to drag all creation into the abyss that was created for their eternal punishment. And the only weapon available is Christ himself. He is God's promise that he has not forsaken the world. He is God's promise that in the end all that is evil will be destroyed.

It is the very thing Jesus told his disciples to do. To proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. (Luke 24:45ff) There is no time to delay. This is what the Reformation is all about. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of sins. A clear, concise, truthful proclamation that God has done everything necessary to avoid the coming judgment. We have this message to proclaim from God's Word alone. God is gracious and merciful. He saves us in Jesus Christ alone. He gives us this gift by his grace, that is his undeserved love, alone. It is ours when we cling in faith alone to Jesus Christ as our only means of salvation.

So the angel's proclamation of judgment is "good news". It is good news because God is faithful, he forgives sin through Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. And it is all done for you. In it is all here for you now. Repent! Believe the Gospel. Cling to Jesus Christ alone. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 19, 2013

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; October 20, 2013;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa;

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:5, ESV)

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

This little text is a small part of a letter from St. Paul to young pastor Timothy. Paul has taught Timothy how to be a pastor. He is his "spiritual" father. Paul is near the end of his life facing execution in Rome. He's giving his last instructions, passing down his best pastoral advice, to his beloved friend and "spiritual" child Timothy. But, this letter is far from advice only to a pastor. Paul's care for Timothy goes to his personal spiritual condition. That's what makes this letter applicable to all of you, not just your pastor.

What is so striking about this text is how Paul connects Timothy to God's Word. He reminds him how his grandmother and mother taught him the Scriptures. It's the Old Testament Saint Paul is talking about. The account of God working among his people from creation through the late Prophets (everything before Jesus was born). These are the foundation on which Timothy is to be a pastor to the people. It is not far-fetched to assume that Timothy knew well Paul's words about preaching:

For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, ESV)

Paul wrote these words to the congregation at Corinth nearly a decade before. It was certainly a part of Paul's regular preaching. Even based on the Old Testament, preaching in the church is to be Christ centered and cross focused. This preaching from the Scripture, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the power of God. The Old Testament connected to Jesus Christ, with him at the center, is able (and not just able but powerful) to make you wise for salvation. The Holy Spirit working through the Word to bring faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Paul says:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)

Paul refers to God's work at creation of breathing life into human beings. That same breath is what makes the Word of God able to do exactly what Paul is saying. When Scripture is preached with Jesus Christ as the main point this is what makes it powerful to do what Paul says. It is the Holy Spirit living an active in the Word, the breath of God.

And Paul even tells Timothy how to preach. He says, "in season and out of season" and "reprove rebuke and exhort" and "with complete patience and teaching." The in season and out of season means whether people are listening are not. Timothy (and all pastors for that matter) have the obligation to preach. In the best of times and the worst of times. Whether people are listening to God's word whether they're denying it. To reprove, rebuke and exhort is another way of saying use Law and Gospel. Reprove and rebuke mean to convict people of their sin and then, having cut them to their heart, exhort means give them the sweet Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of those very sins.

For the time is coming, so St. Paul says, when people will no longer listen to the Word. And in fact will be hostile to it and those who bring it. But instead they will use the Word for their own ends. And anyone who speaks the word to reprove, rebuke and exhort will be ignored or worse. That's why St. Paul's advice includes for Timothy to endure suffering and do the work of an evangelist.

So what about our itching ears? What do we want to hear God's word say? St. Paul says that we are incorporated into God's story. The story of God working in the world from creation through redemption. Timothy was incorporated into God's story by the faithful teaching of his mother and grandmother. They filled his ears with God's Word. They told him of the Messiah that would come and save him from his sin.

What itching ears would rather do is make God a part of our story. My life is busy, but I do have a place for God. As long as God sticks to Sunday morning. As long as God does what I want him to do. As long as he makes me healthy, wealthy and wise. As long as God gives me purpose and tells me what I'm here for. As long as my life is trouble-free. As long as I can live an extraordinary life, right now. As long as God doesn't embarrass me with demands that are way too old-fashioned. As long as I'm not inconvenienced by the church, I'll listen to everything that God has to say. As long as God doesn't interfere in my politics. And as long as God doesn't insist that the Bible is the only place where I can hear his voice. I'd much rather listen to my own heart. I'd rather let my feelings tell me what is right and wrong. I'd much rather listen to what everybody else is listening to. I would much rather listen to authors who claim direct connections to God. And I would rather listen to them even if they disagree with what God's word says.

Those who claim direct communication with God outside of his Word are lying. Those who tell you that thus and so is true because they feel it in their heart are deceiving you. When Jesus said "my sheep hear my voice and they know me." He was speaking about his Word that comes from Holy Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture will you find him saying depend on your heart and do what it says. Instead he says

For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”” (Mark 7:21–23, ESV)

You put your faith and your salvation in jeopardy when you look inside yourself for the truth. What God does he does outside of you, for you. Jesus brings you forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection. It happened on a bloody cross, on a bloody hill outside a small Jewish town. The Good News is that in spite of the sin that lives inside of you, that pushes you to trust in everything but what God has given you to trust in, God saves you in Jesus Christ. And he brings this Good News to you from the outside. God makes you wise to salvation through the Word of God that travels through the air and strikes your ear holes. All Scripture is breathed out by God. You do not have to depend on slippery emotions and feelings to tell you what is right and wrong. And when people tell you that something is right because they feel it in their heart, or God spoke it to their heart, you do not believe it if it disagrees was Scripture.

God has given you a pastor as a wonderful gift. His job, as Paul tells Timothy, is to help you see Jesus in the Word. His job is to help you see your sin and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. That you can live your life as part of God's story. Amen.

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

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ruth.1.1-19a; Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2013;


Ruth.1.1-19a; Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost; October 10, 2010;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston, Iowa

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ru 1:1-19, ESV)

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

Two men were traveling in a deep woods. All at once they were confronted with a huge bear. One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree. The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body.

It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be. When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!”

“He did,” answered the other. “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.” The story is one of Aesop’s fables.

There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued on “Ruthlessly.” Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize. You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion” so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.” But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.” It’s actually what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us. In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word. She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old.

The story is a particularly wonderful one. It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born. There was a man named Elimelech. He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. When a famine struck the area they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea). Moab was a well watered highland so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there. While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband. We don’t know why he died there is no reason given. Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women. Their names were Orpah and Ruth. Then tragedy struck again and the two sons also died. Again we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves. Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home.

At first the two women joined her. But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again. Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked. Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV) These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty. Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion and comfort.

Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like. Similar to the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins. Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship. For some it is in marriage. Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown. Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.

These people are people you trust. You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them. You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together. Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions. There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship. They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us.

But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement. Imagine two people standing in a rowboat. If both of them leaned over the same side of the boat they’d both end up in deep water. Sometimes friends, too, have to disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both. None of our earthly relationships are trouble free. When we expect that we usually end up alone.

Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too. You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have. It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now. And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way. And our troubles persist. What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle. And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own. It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.

But, God is more than just our good friend. His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding. He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand. Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble. Because he is more than only our friend He doesn’t always allow us take the easy road.

It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi. There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law. In fact, quite the opposite was true. When she said where you die I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon. Such was the fate of widowed women in those days. Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman. It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself. Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation. For Ruth it all paid off in the end. She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children and lived a full new life. But, it was no accident. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior. She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you.

God’s love for you is no accident either. In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson. God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice. We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words… “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” That’s what Jesus did. God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate and slept where people ate slept. And most importantly died as people die, and was buried. That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely. That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being. It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have. Jesus death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me. It is Jesus bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world. It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone. We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that. But Jesus is. He is because His love compels him to be.

Ruth said to Naomi. “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.” Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship. And he seals his promise in his own blood. One way to look at it is this. Ruth could have died for Naomi. If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice. But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help. Jesus isn’t dead. That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us. He died, but didn’t stay dead. He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb. That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for us; For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV)

Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us. But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives. He does something no human begin could ever do.

It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way. He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble. But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort. He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering. And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi. He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end. And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb… Jesus empty tomb… and yours. Amen.

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