Saturday, September 20, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, September 13, 2014

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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