Sunday, June 29, 2014

Psalm 46:1; The Presentation of the Augsburg Confession (Observed); June 29, 2014;


God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, ESV)

Herb had never felt this kind of fear before… He had walked this way home a thousand times, but this time was different… this time he was afraid. Maybe it was because his hip hurt more than ever… maybe it was because his cane felt heavier than usual… or that the ally was darker, there was surely someone there waiting to jump out and hurt him like before. Everything tonight reminded him of the night when someone did jump out at him, and knock him down and hurt him. That was the night he wanted to forget, but it was too much like tonight. “Give me your money, Old Man!” said the young man towering over him as Herb lay in pain on the ground. “I know you’ve got it…” Herb obeyed without a word. When he gave it to him, the mugger just looked at it in disgust… “Is that all you got, you stupid old man?” he said kicking him in the hip for emphasis. Then he was gone and Herb was left lying there on the sidewalk, alone. Now tonight, he passed by the very spot where it had happened. Herb walked as quickly as possible, whatever his hip would take. He looked down the street; he could see his own front door. The light there above it was on for him. That was where he wanted to be. It was where he was safe. It was his refuge.

Psalm 46:1–3,7 (ESV)

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,

though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

The LORD of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

Like Herb, we need a refuge, because the world is a dangerous place. There is trouble out there. The Psalm paints a picture of violence, the earth falling apart, mountains crumbling and oceans coming out of their banks sweep over everything in their path. It shows us dangers we can’t avoid… dangers that we can’t get away from, because they are too big. God is our refuge, it says, even in the face of these kinds of dangers.

God is our refuge… our safe place… when I was younger, I remember walking through our neighborhood and seeing a sign on some house, “Block Home.” “Dad, what’s a block home?” I asked. I sure I had in mind the block heads that some of you might remember on the Gumby television show, the one’s that troubled him all the time, or maybe a place where you go and play with blocks… “That’s a place you can go if you are in trouble.” He said, “It’s a safe place to run if someone is chasing you.” Around here, I see the blue stars in the window. In St. Louis, the fire stations all have signs up that say… “Safe Place” It is a refuge, somewhere to go in time of trouble.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when we are threatened by sickness, that lurks in the darkness to catch us when we least expect it. …threatens to jump out and knock us down… to take away our independence, our self-reliance, and ability to take care of ourselves. But, in sickness, we turn to God, who is our refuge. Like the woman who came to Jesus crying, “Heal my daughter!” Just like her, we come to our Refuge for healing. We come to this altar in prayer.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when other people threaten us. People we don’t understand… people who don’t understand us. It isn’t just thieves and muggers… it is people willing to put them selves in an airplane and strike a building full of people. People who are willing to kill thousands to satisfy their own ideals. People who have very different ideologies… very different theologies that threaten us. Herb was beaten on a dark street; Christians are often ridiculed on primetime. What we believe, teach and confess, is said to be hate speech. Positive portrayals of people of faith are hard to come by on television. And it’s getting worse. People of faith are under attack in the legal system… and the school system. There is an ever-increasing persecution of Christians in general and conservative Christians in particular. And when it happens, we run to our Refuge. “Help us, Father!” we cry.

The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. The ultimate trouble that faces us, the one that has been pushed into the forefront of our minds this week… is death. The old hymn “I walk in trouble all the way,” speaks of death ‘pursuing us.’

Death doth pursue me all the way

Nowhere I rest securely

He comes by night- he comes by day,

And takes his prey most surely

A failing breath, and I

I death’s strong grasp may lie

To face eternity for aye.

Death doth pursue me all the way.

Only a breath lies between life and death. A misstep… a mistake… during a trip to the grocery store, or home from work. The people working in the WTC were certainly caught of guard, Tuesday morning. Death walks along with us down the dark street… but God is our refuge, we turn to him when death threatens. “I walk with Jesus all the way,” the Hymn comforts. In Him, we find refuge.

The reformers who met at Augsburg castle to present their confession of faith to Emperor, Prince Charles understood what it meant for God to be our Refuge.. He demanded that no more “Lutheran Sermons” be preached. He demanded that they worship in the “Roman Way.” They refused. George, Margrave of Brandenburg spoke for all the Lutherans and for the confession presented to Charles. “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.” God was his refuge. God was his strength in the face of persecution. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ and salvation won for him on the cross. In his time of trouble, Jesus was his refuge.

Martin Luther knew also, the hymn we sang just before the sermon is base on our text for today, Psalm 46. Luther saw God as a “Mighty Fortress,” a place to run in danger, a place to be safe. Just like the “block home,” or the “blue star,” or the fire station. God is our fortress where evil things that are pursuing us can’t reach us. God was a refuge for Luther.

God is our refuge… we have run to him today… right here in this place. Even though this church might seem like a tiny speck of pepper in a vast ocean… whose waves threaten to drown it… we have come here to seek refuge. We come here, because this is the place that God tells us about his greatest rescue. Here is the place where we hear how he saved us from our great enemies. How he sent his own Son… how He endured pain and death. “Crucified dead and buried,” we say every Sunday. Jesus Christ died, but just when death seemed to have its victory, God reached out a saving hand and raised him from death. Rescued him from the grave…

But, we couldn’t turn to God as our refuge if Jesus’ rescue was only for Jesus himself. The rescue of Jesus is our rescue, too. His death is ours. His resurrection is ours. It becomes ours when God poured water on us… and “baptized us into Christ.” “Receive the sign of the cross both upon the forehead and upon the heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified.” It is all there because in Holy Baptism God places his name on us. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The wisdom of Proverbs says the same thing like this:

The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)

And the Baptismal liturgy says, “The promises are for you and your children” and “baptism now saves you.” Because of Jesus rescue and God’s promises found in His word and given to us in his name through Holy Baptism, we have our refuge in God.

The world is a dangerous place, but we have a Refuge, God is our Refuge, through Jesus Christ. So even if illness overtakes us, he is our refuge… we look to him for healing, but even if the illness ends in death we find refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. Even though there are people out there who hate us and threaten us, we turn to God for refuge. Even if they kill us we find our refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. And when death does finally catch us, when the pursuit is over, when darkness is closing in on us… we look to God, our refuge and remember the rescue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in him we find refuge. Amen.

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

Saturday, June 07, 2014

John 7:37-39; The Festival of Pentecost; June 8, 2014;

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’ ” Now this he said about the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were to receive, for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” (John 7:37–39, ESV)

(Thanks to Rev. Reed Lessing, Concordia Journal, June 12, 2011)

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

Have you ever been in an airplane flying over one of those states that is mostly desert? You know, states like Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah. There’s a reason they’re called “fly-over lands.” We fly over them to get somewhere else more important, places that have more interest. A few years ago, a politician called the Midwest “fly-over.” He seemed to indicate that our values are not as important and far less interesting, as those on either coast. Those of us in Iowa would disagree. We don’t believe we live in “fly-over land.”

You may not live in “fly-over land,” but we all have “fly-over lands” as part of our lives. We have bad memories, broken relationships, and regrets that we try to put in the back of our minds. We put them there because they are our failures brought about by our own sin. We don’t want to live in them. They are dry desolate places without hope. We don’t want to be reminded. We want to fly-over. After all, they are parched desert lands. Remembering them only makes you thirsty for things to be different.

Jesus says if you thirst you can come to him and he will quench you. What he means is that it’s time to quit denying our sinfulness. It’s time to acknowledge our pain. It’s time to acknowledge our dry thirsty “fly-over lands” and bring our sin to the one who can quench our thirst with living water. Jesus is the one who has living water to quench the thirst of our sin.

Jesus is no stranger to water. The gospel of John is full of him using it. In fact, his first miracle is changing water into wine (John 2:1–11). He heals a lame man in the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1–9). He walks on water showing his authority over the elements (John 6:19). He uses the Pool of Siloam (John 9) to bring about site in a blind man. And, Jesus even washes the disciples’ feet with water (John 13:1-15, 15:3).

“If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” (John 13:8, ESV)

And here in our text for today, John links Jesus’ use of water to the ultimate gift of salvation at our Lord’s death. How does he do that? It begins with the last day of the feast, the seventh day. It’s the Feast of Tabernacles. This Jewish holiday has a very special connection to water. Each morning of the seven days of the festival, a priest fills a golden pitcher with water as the choir sings the words,

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3, ESV)

That water is poured on the base of the altar. On the last day, the seventh day, the water is poured seven times into silver funnels surrounding the altar. The altar is drowned in water. This last day is the day that Jesus stands up and says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me for drink.” The prayers of the people, water for salvation, are answered in Jesus. He is the one who gives living water for thirsty sinners. It is from his side that the water of salvation flows.

It is out of Jesus living water flows. On the cross, the spear pierces Jesus’ heart and outflows life-giving blood and water. It is also the river of the water of life that flows from the throne of the Lamb of God as John describes it in Revelation.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. (Revelation 22:1–4, ESV)

Back in Exodus, the people complained about being thirsty. God instructed Moses to touch the rock with his staff. The rock split open and water poured out for the thirst of God’s people (Exodus 17:1-7). The hymn Rock of Ages is about this. Rock of Ages cleft (that means split open) for me. The Rock of Ages is Jesus. St. Paul makes that very connection in 1 Corinthians (10:4). He calls this split open rock, Jesus himself. It’s a picture of Jesus split open on the cross.

On the cross, Jesus suffers all the pain of human history. All the sins, regrets, and failures tucked away in our dry desert “fly-over lands.” The horror of it all, the punishment received, the hanging suspended between earth and heaven in God’s righteous wrath, is expressed clearly in Jesus own words, “I thirst.” This is the most ironic twist in all of human history. The one from whom flows the river of the water of life hangs suffering thirst. He dies. The Roman spear splits him open and outflows blood and water. Here is Jesus crushed and cursed and cleft by the sin of your life and mine. Here is the result of all the things we tuck away in our minds in those “fly-over zones.” Here is where we see the horrible cost of our sin. Here is where we see the seriousness of our sin. It cannot be overlooked. Sin must be dealt with. Just like the witnesses of the crucifixion, we may want to fly-over this scene. We can’t even bear to see Jesus on the cross. We want to skip the punishment and run straight to the resurrection.

The cross is necessary. We preach Jesus Christ crucified. His suffering and death are your suffering and death. His suffering and death make it possible for your thirst to be quenched. And Jesus says, “Come to me! I have living water for thirsty people.” This Jesus is crushed and killed but made alive for you. On the cross, he has earned forgiveness for you by taking the punishment you deserve for your sin. In his grave, he carries your sin into his death, your death. In his resurrection, he promises that forgiveness is yours. Look at the thirst-quenching water in your baptismal font. Here is where Jesus connects you to him through his living water. It washes you clean. It floods away your filth. It defeats your death. Jesus is here, from him flows living water to quench your thirst. He floods your “fly-over lands” with forgiveness. Amen.

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