Saturday, February 21, 2015

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

James 1:12-18; The First Sunday in Lent; February 22, 2015;

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

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.” (James 1:12–18, ESV)

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

It’s a rough world, and getting rougher, it seems. As I look around the congregation I see lots of folks here who are struggling with difficult issues. Cancer and violence, money and work, family and future, disagreement and broken relationships. It doesn’t seem as if things are getting better. In fact, I think Satan is making specific attacks against you all. Trials are a part of the Christian life. If anyone sells Christianity as an easy life, full of riches and blessings, as if once you become a Christian life gets easy, they are lying. Certainly there are riches and blessings of a certain kind, to being a Christian, but not necessarily what is sold by preacher / hucksters.

And there’s more. We not only struggle with what the world has to dish out, we struggle with our own self-made troubles. When you are baptized into the Christian faith you gain a great enemy. He is bent on your destruction. He leads you down the path of your own choosing. He feeds your own desires. He lures you in, like the fish going for the bait on the hook. It feels dangerous, but you go right ahead because you can’t stop the desire. After all that, sin is born. The temptation isn’t sin, but temptation married to desire have sin as their offspring. And sin, set in the heart, after all its promises to satisfy desire, really only brings nothing but death. Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. Your life is racked with it. Lost friendships. Regret that keeps you up at night. Hopelessness. You want to blame someone else, but as Pogo says, "We have met the enemy and he is us.” Just look at your own life and take inventory of the troubles you have that will only ultimately be resolved by death.

It’s the lifecycle of sin. Temptation, desire, sin, death. How many times have you lived that? How many times has it ended up where sin ends up? How many times in your life will you do it again? How many times can you count on God’s forgiveness?

Well, that’s the real question isn’t it? Does my temptation, desire, sin, and death lead to hell, permanent punishment, and separation from God, living in my sin and its consequences forever? Or is there some way out? St. James tells us carefully and directly, “Do not be deceived!” Temptation, desire, and sin are dangerous. The first place to realize some relief is early, when you are tempted by your desire. Recognize the lifecycle of sin, break it at the beginning. Recognize that sin is our own problem. We suffer the consequences. James tells us that when we “stand firm” we are blessed.

Now I’m not saying that you should work harder to overcome your temptations, as if you, by yourself could do such a thing. Pray harder, and endure your suffering stronger, be all that you can be! Look inside yourself and find the strength to beat down your temptation. The problem is in your heart. Your sinful nature drags you toward sin and its consequences. No, in your heart is not the place to find help against the lifecycle of sin. Your sinful nature is the very problem.

James actually gives you another idea, another place to look for help. He talks about good gifts that come from God. He talks about being “brought forth” by the word of truth. It’s a kind of lifecycle of salvation. Sin gives birth to death. Jesus, the Word of Life, gives birth to life itself. James is talking about being born of water and spirit just like our Lord says.

That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (John 3:6, ESV)

Well, and don’t we have a great example of that very thing here today. Fritz Christian Carter, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit! Born of the Spirit, brought forth by the Word of Truth. Baptized into Christ.

Sin, disturb my soul no longer:
I am baptized into Christ!
I have comfort even stronger:
Jesus’ cleansing sacrifice.
Should a guilty conscience seize me
Since my Baptism did release me
In a dear forgiving flood,
Sprinkling me with Jesus’ blood?

LSB 594 © 1991 Robert E. Voelker. Used by permission: LSB Hymn License .NET, no. 100012735.

Good and perfect gifts that come from God the Father, reminding us that the lifecycle of sin is broken by the Word of Truth, Jesus Christ himself on the cross, the lifecycle of life. That is where James says to turn. Turn to the one who has paid the price for your sin already. Turn to the cross and your connection to it in New Birth, given in the water of Holy Baptism. Turn to the Holy Spirit, who pours into you His strength to avoid temptations pull.

The Word of Truth calls us to confess our sin, our shortcomings, our sinful desires, our inability to avoid, and our failure again and again. We confess, he forgives. That is Holy Baptism, the good gift that comes down from the Father of lights. It’s just like Luther writes in the Small Catechism:

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.

From Luther’s Small Catechism © 1986 Concordia Publishing House,

That New Man is the “firstfruits” that James is talking about. A new man that avoids temptation and sin, not because he has some great power to do so, but because he has God himself, working, offering forgiveness, calming the guilty conscience, releasing us in that dear forgiving flood, the blood of Jesus shed on the cross for you. Amen.

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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

2 Kings 2:1–12; The Transfiguration of our Lord; February 15, 2015;

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

Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal. And Elijah said to Elisha, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel. And the sons of the prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he said, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Elijah said to him, “Elisha, please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho. The sons of the prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take away your master from over you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know it; keep quiet.” Then Elijah said to him, “Please stay here, for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on. Fifty men of the sons of the prophets also went and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan. Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground. When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” And as they still went on and talked, behold, chariots of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them. And Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. And Elisha saw it and he cried, “My father, my father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” And he saw him no more. Then he took hold of his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.” (2 Kings 2:1–12, ESV)

(From a Sermon by Glen Nielson, Winter 2012 Concordia Journal)

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

Today is ascension. We have the picture of Jesus, Moses and Elijah standing together discussing Jesus’ work, especially what he was going to be doing for forgiveness through the cross.

The Old Testament reading is about Elijah, one of those having today’s discussion with Jesus. Elijah was really and amazing fellow. Some of things that God did through him are simply incredible. He lived about 850 years before Jesus. He had a 15 year ministry, before that we don’t know much about him. But his calling from God was to turn the people way from the worship of Baal.

We heard about the end of his ministry in our first reading today. Even that was incredible. There at the Jordan River Elijah gave his cloak and struck the water, it spread apart and they walked across just like the Children of Israel did with the Egyptians hot on their trail.

Earlier he was ministering in Israel. There was a drought and food was scarce. Elijah met a widow and her son that were starving. They had enough food for one more meal, then death. Elijah asked the woman to use all they had to make him a meal. She did. But God made a miracle. Elijah told her that her oil and flour wouldn’t run out.

Then the widow’s son, her only son died. She wasn’t very happy with Elijah. She blamed Elijah of brining her sins to God’s attention. But what happened next was incredible. Elijah raised the boy from the dead. He had done one incredible miracle right after another. The widow believe that Elijah was great prophet of God.

Elijah’s biggest challenge came in his dealings with the king. Ahab was an evil king. His wife was even worse. Her name was Jezebel. She was a worshiper of the false gods Baal and Astroth. Ahab didn’t do anything to prevent her from setting up the false religion in Israel. She had hundreds of prophets for Baal and a bunch for Astroth.

God had Elijah challenge the prophets to a contest to see whose god was the true god. Elijah and the prophets (850 of them!) met on Mount Carmel. The test was simple. Build and altar, put wood and a sacrifice on it and pray. The God who lights the fire is the true god. The prophets of Baal started early in the morning and made a ruckus all day long, calling on Baal to light the fire. Elijah taunted them. “Shout louder, maybe he can’t hear you because he’s sleeping, or in the bathroom.” Nothing happened. Then it was Elijah’s turn. He rebuilt the altar, with the wood and his own sacrifice. He prayed, and immediately fire came down from heaven and burned the sacrifice, the wood, and the stones of the altar and left only a black charred spot on the ground. The God of Israel proved himself the only true God. Elijah took a sword and killed every one of those false prophets that day. Incredible.

Then came the end of Elijah’s ministry. Time to set his servant Elisha in his place. It was an incredible thing again. A fiery chariot came and took Elijah from the earth. He didn’t die. He was just scooped up and taken straight to heaven. The next time he was seen was standing on the mount of Transfiguration talking with Jesus.

Elijah was an incredible prophet who did incredible things. It seems like a long time ago, and very different from our day to day lives. It was a long time ago, 2900 years or so. Elijah’s life and ministry were incredible.

Our lives seem rather uneventful. Routine might even be the word. Children have to be taken to school, meals have to be set on the table. Food is plentiful for us, but we don’t often have the time to eat it. Not because things are incredible but because our lives are filled up with regular everyday things. Empty nesters have days that aren’t incredible but incredibly the same. Eat, clean, TV, errands. Apply, lather, rinse repeat.

But sometimes out-of-the-ordinary things happen. A trip to see the grandkids. A concert. A mission fest at church. A surprise party. A night out. But the excitement fades back to the routine. It all flies by quickly and we are back to the same old same old routine again. Nothing like Elijah’s excitement. We are still talking about the incredible events of his life 2900 years later!

Elijah—incredible. You and me—uneventful.

Except… Elijah was more like you and I than we might know. If you push past all the excitement you find a man who was most often lonely and afraid. Are you surprised by that? You would think that after all God had done through him, after all that he had seen he would be strong and confident. He had his moments, like on Mount Carmel. But much of the time he was alone. After he had killed all the prophets on the mountain he had to run for his life. Even after God’s great showing he thought he was the only person faithful to the true God. Elijah the incredible prophet had moments of weakness and doubt. Now weakness and doubt I can relate to, how about you?

There’s a cartoon. In it a young girl is talking on her cell phone. She’s surrounded by her classmates. And yet she says, “I’m so glad you called, I’m so lonely.” That’s life today, isn’t it? We are lonely in a crowd. We’re busy connected by Facebook, Twitter, Pintrest, and Snapchat, but still alone in a crowd. We have so many ways to keep in touch but we are still lonely.

We are also afraid of many things. Most of them we can’t control. What are your greatest fears? Do they involve your children? Your health? Your job? Crime? Finances? Elijah was afraid. We are afraid.

Well, we are a bit like Elijah after all. He’s not quite so distant after all.

Back to the Transfiguration. Jesus is on the top of the mountain with his disciples and something incredible happens. Jesus changes. He is unbelievably, dazzlingly bright. Jesus’ glory, his divine nature, his God-ness shows out. He shows them clearly that he is in fact God-in-the-flesh. And Moses and Elijah appear. They talk with Jesus, but they aren’t the center of attention. Jesus is. God the Father speaks out of heaven, “This is my beloved Son. Listen to him!” Moses and Elijah disappear and Jesus is left alone.

Jesus is the focus. Even when Elijah was doing all those incredible things all those years earlier it was the same. He did it all to show who the true God was. He did all that to bring people back to worship him. Elijah stands with Jesus to call our attention to him as the only true God. He was standing with Jesus, talking to him.

What were they talking about? Incredible things. Not the things that Elijah did, but the things that Jesus would soon be doing. Incredible things in Jerusalem. When Jesus comes down from the mountain, he heads straight for Jerusalem and the cross. He does those incredible things for you and me.

Jesus is alone when he does these things. The disciples start out with him but they fall asleep and flee like rats at the first sign of danger. Jesus will go to the cross alone. But there something incredible happens. Jesus takes our fears and loneliness. He takes our sins and our grief. He takes are moments of weakness. He holds them on the cross and takes them into his death. He makes them his sins instead of ours.

And then, as if that wasn’t incredible enough, something else happens. Jesus appears in glory again. Jesus’ grave is empty. He has risen from the dead. He is alive. And he promises to never leave us. It’s a bit like Elijah standing by Jesus. Jesus is always standing by us. He is ready to listen to all our troubles.

Yes, Jesus is standing beside us in all our uneventful, every day, dull moments. Errands, fast food, empty places at the dinner table and all. He standing with us when we have the same old, same old day we had before, and when something exciting happens. But most of all he’s standing with us in our loneliness and doubt. He with us in our fear and anger.

Now think again about Elijah. Even though he did some incredible things, I think he might tell us the most incredible of all was standing with Jesus on the Mount of the Transfiguration, talking to him about saving you and me through the cross. Elijah wouldn’t want us to focus on him, but rather “Listen to Jesus.” He would want us to focus on Jesus standing right beside us. He never leaves us, or forsakes us. That is very incredible indeed. Amen.

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