Sunday, August 02, 2020

Isaiah 55:1-3; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 2, 2020;

Isaiah 55:1-3; Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; August 2, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

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

So, have you ever been really thirsty? Or really hungry? I don’t mean just a little, I mean really, really thirsty; hot, and dry and parched. Your tongue gets thick and stiff, and sticks to your teeth and the roof of your mouth. Your lips crack and if you lick them, they just get more dry instead of less. You can pull dry layers of skin from them, too. Even your eyes seem to be dry and the wind burns in them. That’s dry. How about hungry that’s more than just a little rumble in your stomach. I remember a time when I worked for my cousin on his garbage truck. It was a cold January day. He was sick and needed someone to help run the route. I bundled up and made the rounds. It was a smelly, dirty, exhausting job. But what I remember most was lunchtime. I had worked extremely hard and I was very hungry and very thirsty. Lunch was packed for us… a large jar of water, clear and wet, and simple cheese and mayo sandwiches. I drank the water like I never had before. And never had cheese and mayo tasted so good. We ate and napped and then went back to work. It was a long and hard day.

Hunger and thirst are universally understood. Everyone’s been hungry and thirsty at sometime in their life. There are some who are always hungry and always thirsty, they are literally starving. It’s sad to realize that there is well enough food to feed everyone, and yet millions are on their way to death from starvation. It is particularly difficult to see when it involves young children.

The children of Israel were thirsty and hungry, too. After settling into the Promised Land they had basically ignored God, the one who had rescued them from Egyptian slavery, and given them the land. They went through the motions, but it was empty worship. It was empty action without real meaning. Isaiah asked them “Who’s your real king? Are you trusting in earthly kings, are you trusting in foreign kings? You shouldn’t be you should be trusting in your God.” But, life went on for them. They ignored Isaiah’s pleas to the people to return to the true king, God, YHWH the one who had chosen them and saved them.

“Watch out!” He said. “Babylon is coming, and you are going to be taken into exile. Everything you have now, your wealth, your families, and even land is going to be taken from you. You will be taken to a far away land.” His words went unheeded… Babylon came and conquered the land and the people, and the survivors were hauled off into slavery and exile. Earthly things and kings had failed them. They had lost everything. They were thirsty and hungry for things to be different.

You see, Isaiah wasn’t talking about a famine where food and water were scarce; he was talking about spiritual hunger and thirst. And that too is something we understand. The world is thirsty and hungry, actually starving to death, and not even aware of why. People everyday search for meaning in their lives. They go to every well and banquet they can find. What they are experiencing doesn’t seem all that bad, it is a less immediate hunger and thirst, but it is no less dangerous. Famine and drought are common today, even in areas (especially?) where there is plenty to eat and drink. If you know and watch people at all you know you don’t have to look far to find emptiness. For lots of people life is a void, an undefined dissatisfaction with the way things are, even though they have all they could ever want or need. Most people that we come into contact with every day are filled with good, and yet they feel that something is lacking. People today are spiritually hungry and thirsty. Many are actually starving and parched, even in the midst of plenty. In their search for satisfaction people stuff themselves with a steady diet of spiritual junk food. Sects and cults have never been more popular. There is a constant demand for spiritual gurus and advisors. People are turning to television personalities to answer spiritual questions of life and death. But the food they are eating is food without spiritual value. And the drink they are guzzling doesn’t quench their thirst. In fact, they are overweight from eating, and still starving. They are waterlogged from drinking and dying from dehydration. It is all poison. Instead of leading of to health, it all leads to death.

Jackie was happy, she thought, and yet something was still missing. She had been happily married for so long, it was difficult to remember a time when she wasn’t a wife. Her children were grown and successful and happy. She had everything she needed and most everything she wanted. Her husband was highly successful, too. They were comfortable, if not well off. But ever increasingly she felt as if something was missing. There was a vague dissatisfaction in her life but she just couldn’t put her finger on what it was. It was a longing for something unknown and illusive.

Jackie had many friends and acquaintances. Gloria seemed very much like her. But there was a difference. Very frequently she had invited Jackie to attend a bible study with her. Finally, she gave in for the sole reason of being able to say that she had tried it, and put the request to sleep for good. At the gathering one of the women read this text.

“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. Isaiah 55:1-3

Jackie was startled. Were the words talking to her? Is that what her problem was? Is that why she felt so empty? Was she spending her life in pursuit of things that didn’t really satisfy? What exactly was being offered in those words that would fill the emptiness?

Maybe today you are hungry and thirsty, too. You’ve had questions about running here and there trying to do everything that needs to be done, and yet you wonder if it’s all worth it. Year after year you do the same thing, standing on the assembly floor, sitting in the tractor seat, cleaning the same carpet, feeding hogs in the same building. Work has provided you with everything you need, and most of what you want. It’s all going very well, but maybe you’ve said to yourself there has to be more. So, you do more. Social clubs, sports teams, fair boards, and more… but there is still that little emptiness in there, a thirsting for more, a hunger that isn’t ever really quite satisfied. I’ve been there too. It’s an easy place to get to. It’s easy to be hungry and wanting, and thirsty for what seems elusive.

I’ve got good news for you. No, I’m not going to pass around a jug of water, and some cheese sandwiches. Actually, Isaiah has good news for you. It’s the same good news he had for the people of Israel. Remember they were hungry and thirsty, too. “Come all who are thirsty…” he said to them. You’ve forgotten who your true King is, you are wondering around looking for something you can’t find. Come to your God and King and he will satisfy you. He is what you’ve crowded out of your life with all of life’s troubles and problems, wants and desires.

God is there for you to calling to you to come… It’s not that you don’t know who he is, and what he has done for you in Jesus Christ, but it’s easy to let “more practical” concerns set Jesus aside. I’ll get back to Jesus when I have time. But, before you know it your thirsty again, and hungry for that missing something. The missing something is Jesus.

Remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. She was drawing water for drinking. Jesus asked her for a drink.

“I can’t do that,” she said, “I’m an outcast and you’re not. I a Samaritian.”

Jesus answered her; “If you knew who I am you’d be asking me for living water. Anyone who drinks of it will never be thirsty again.”

“That’s the water I want! I’d not have to make tiring trips to the well every day.”

“Go get your husband.”

“I don’t have one.” She answered.

“Yes, I know.” Jesus said, “You’ve had 5 husbands and now your living with a man. It looks to me like you want more than just water from this well. You won’t find what you’re looking for it in those men. You’ll find it in me.”

It’s when we find our life lacking, when we are hungry and thirsty that we hear the words of Isaiah and Jesus as Good News. What is truly and finally satisfying is a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the bread of life. He gives the water of life. He has a never-ending banquet of food and drink. With Jesus “my cup overflows.” When we partake of Jesus Christ, through faith, we are not disappointed. He gives us what we really need: The Bread of God.

Here in this place God feeds us with the Good News about Jesus Christ. Here we are fed by words that travel through the air to reach us and tell us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. How he fills that elusive empty feeling, that space that can’t be filled. He shed his blood for you and he did it so that you’d never be hungry and thirsty again. He took your sins to the cross and sacrificed himself there for you, so that you could have a relationship with him forever.

But, God knows you need more than just colorful metaphors about his promises for you. He knows that your diet needs real food and real drink. It’s easy to say, “Come to me and I’ll give you what you need.” He does more than that; he actually gives you something to eat. And he gives it right here. Open up your hand and in it, God gives you the very Bread of Life. “Take and eat this is my body… take and drink this is my blood.” It’s more than just spiritual, ghostly eating. It’s real and physical. We receive Jesus in his body and in his blood right there in the bread and wine. God gives us food that is more than food, and drink that is more than drink. This is the blood of the covenant given for you for the forgiveness of sins.

While we live in this world, we’ll always be hungry and thirsty. We can’t get rid of our craving for food that doesn’t satisfy. Jesus gives us food that satisfies. Wholesome bread and living water to take care of what we need, and also to remind us of the time when we will be with him, sitting and eating and drinking in the banquet that will never end. Amen.

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


Sunday, July 26, 2020

Romans 8:28-39; The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; July 26, 2020;

Romans 8:28-39; The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost; July 26, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. 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? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved 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.” (Romans 8:28–39, ESV)

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

This passage is undoubtedly familiar to you. You may have heard it at your hospital bed. It is so often read for the comfort of those who are suffering. “All things work together for good” nothing “will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” it’s a beautiful passage, but right in the middle is something, if you think about it, will take your breath away. Right in the middle is something that you might not like.

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

It’s almost as if Paul has to throw in this comment to keep us off balance. Paul, can’t you just stay positive? Can’t you just give us what we want to hear? I mean look at the text. All things work together for good; firstborn among brothers; who is to condemn; who can separate us; and then boom. “For your sake we are being killed.” We are sheep to be slaughtered. What happened? I thought Jesus was around to solve my problems. I thought Jesus was there to give me what I needed. I thought Jesus was there to make my life happy, healthy, wealthy and wise. That works with the “all things work together for good” but not “sheep to be slaughtered.”

Everything is fine and well when life is easy, and we have all that we want, and what we believe is not in conflict with our society. We are very much like James and John. You may remember the account. James and John come to Jesus and ask him to be on his right and left when he comes into his glory. They want the reward of following Jesus. Jesus asks a telling question, “Can you drink the cup that I drink?” Jesus is referring to his suffering and death. “Can you bear the burden of persecution for following me?” Is what Jesus is asking. We think we can. But we don’t like the idea of losing everything we have, or even anything. John and James thought they could. They answered “yes.” But sitting at Jesus right and left in his kingdom was reserved for the two thieves on the crosses at Jesus right and left. James and John would certainly suffer for the faith, but not yet.

One thing that we seem to forget in our westernized, pseudo-Christianized culture is that persecution is part of being a Christian. Listen to Jesus from John’s Gospel.

“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:18–20a, ESV)

The servant is like the master. The servants suffer for the sake of the master. Long before Jesus was born, Isaiah talked about the master.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3, ESV)

St. Paul puts a lot of background before the text we are considering today. In essence, he says that we are connected to Jesus. He is our Savior through his life, death and resurrection. Through faith in what he has done, given to us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, we are his children. And as God’s children, we are obligated to live as his children. Living as his children will be at odds with the world. But we are not alone. We have the Spirit who helps us in our weakness. We have the Spirit who prays with us in our groaning. Our whole life is a bearing of the cross of Christ. It was placed on our four head in our heart in Holy Baptism. It is ours to carry to eternity. St. Paul urges us to flee from those things that get in the way of serving Jesus and the forgiveness that he brings through his cross.

Martin Luther called this the Theology of the Cross. The idea being that we are closest to God when we see our need for him most clearly. And at no time in our lives do we see it more clearly than when we are suffering. Enduring the cross doesn’t save us. We are saved and connected to our Savior; therefore, we bear the cross. Saved people seek the Savior’s cross. Jesus puts us on the cross with him as participants. Again, listen to Paul’s take on his suffering.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—” (Philippians 3:8–9, ESV)

We can see this also, in The Book of Acts when the disciples were beaten and told not to preach Christ any longer.

Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.” (Acts 5:41, ESV)

A number of years ago, you may have heard something similar in the news. The Arabic letter nun has been used to mark the houses of Christians. The letter is the first in the word Nasara or Nazarene. It is how Muslims refer to Christians. And it is now taken as a sign of honor by the Iraqi Christians. In the town of Mosel, they have indeed lost everything. The ones who did not leave everything behind were killed, some by crucifixion. It continues to this day.

Dear Christian friends do not underestimate the evil that brings this persecution. If you think that we are safe because we live in the United States of America and you have not heard the words of your Savior. Just think of the protests against the church. Catholic churches are being burned all across the country. Angry protestors call out for the destruction of images of “White Jesus.” How long will it be before the anger turns on us?

We do not like suffering. We want the Lord to bring us the comfort of the world. We want him to make life easy. We want the happiness of life instead of the joy of Christ. But that is not necessarily the kind of comfort that goes with the suffering of Christ, with Christ. We generally seek freedom from pain and want. But God uses these things to craft us into what he wants us to be. It is when we are weak we see our great need and claim ever stronger to the cross for life.

Now we see the great comfort, or shall I say the greater comfort, in the words of St. Paul. That nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. That all things happen for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose. That we are called to be conformed to the image of Christ. That through the forgiveness of sins won by Jesus on the cross there is no condemnation for us. That nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. That includes tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword.

Jesus is the answer. He has given us the Holy Spirit to bear up under all these things. He has gone to the cross willingly to bear our suffering. He has taken on our burdens and sorrows. Because he has suffered our punishment, we have a forever relationship with God. We are his children. And nothing in the world can separate us from God’s love.

Jesus is our great example. He suffered and yet he served. He suffered and went to the cross. He is our master, we strive to follow his example and do the same. Our suffering does not save. But even in our suffering, there is opportunity to serve. We are sheep. We are subject to slaughter. We have the privilege of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others. We organize our priorities and our lives for the sake of Christ and his church.

We are sons, heirs, when the sacrifice is over we have a forever place with God. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, July 19, 2020

Romans 8:18-27; The Seventh Sunday in Pentecost; July 19, 2020;

Romans 8:18-27; The Seventh Sunday in Pentecost; July 19, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 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. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. Likewise, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:18-27 ESV)

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

Listen, can you hear it? I think if you listen very closely you will. It’s all around us. It’s groaning. No, it’s not just the groaning you’ll hear if you think the sermon is too long or I’ve picked a hymn you don’t know. Oh, that groaning is included, but it’s much more than that. There’s the groaning of nature, where animals live by the blood of their neighbors. Life brings life only through death. The weak feed the strong. Survival of the fittest, as Darwin coined the phrase. There’s the groaning in cities that have been wiped flat from tornados. The groaning of children who starve to death because their governments won’t distribute food. The groaning of mother’s whose children don’t return from the battlefield. There’s the groaning you hear in your own joints as age creeps in and makes work and play harder and harder. Betty Davis said, "Old age is no place for sissies."  There’s the groaning you still hear inside yourself from your child, mother, spouse, daughter, brother, sister’s death. There’s the groaning that comes from hard work and little pay. There’s the groaning of the empty house that used to be filled with little footsteps that have grown and moved out… out of town, out of the county, out of the state. The groaning waiting for them to call. The groaning of the gas pump. The groaning of credit card debt. The groaning of lost friends. The groaning… well I think you get the picture. It’s the picture St. Paul paints for us today in this reading.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22 ESV)

Groaning together… he says. We groan because things aren’t the way they should be. The world doesn’t work the way we know it should work. Nature doesn’t live together the way we know it should live together. Our bodies don’t last the way we know they should last. We die. So, we say the lie we know is untrue, that death is a natural part of life. But there is the desire to live forever. That desire comes from a knowledge that it all should be permanent. That lie is in the face of the groaning we all know. The whole creation groans together… we groan together… because we live in a world that is difficult and broken and cursed to death and suffering.

But there is worse news yet. The creation out their groans because it was subjected to a curse. But it was curse not from its own fault but from ours. When God created the world, he created it for human beings to live in. It was all perfect and good. When our first parents choose to disobey God, when they wanted to be god for themselves, they destroyed their perfect relationship to God. Corrupt and sinful humans couldn’t live in a perfect world, so it was “subject to futility.”  You see, every time things don’t work in the world, every time a tsunami destroys a city, every time an animal dies to feed another, every time a child starves, every time a bone breaks, every time age creeps into our joints, it’s our fault. It’s your fault. It’s my fault.

I know that seems harsh. But that is what the groaning is all about. Adam’s sin brought it all about.

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. 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 3:17-19 ESV)

Now here’s the thing. You might want to blame Adam for this mess, but if you were him, you’d have done the same thing. You don’t keep God’s law either. We’ve talked a lot about our broken relationship with God and our broken relationship with other people. That’s all a part of that groaning. Simply stepping through the commandments and realizing that they are not only talking about doing or not doing but they are talking about the heart, our desires and thoughts. All this shows us very clearly that we are sinful. We are sinful. We see it effects in the broken relationships. We see the effects in our lack of desire to help others. We see it in our lack of care and concern for the world that God has given us. Sin is the cause of all that groaning out there. That’s what St. Paul is confessing to us today.

But notice that St. Paul doesn’t end with the groaning…  Listen again to the verse where he talks about it.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. (Romans 8:20-21 ESV)

The creation was subjected to this groaning in hope… even in our groaning we groan in hope…  That’s the whole point of what St. Paul is saying.

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. (Romans 8:18 ESV)

He’s saying that what we are headed for, the glory, is so much greater than the suffering we are undergoing now. He puts that in terms you can understand too.

For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. (Romans 8:22 ESV)

Any woman will tell you about the pain of childbirth. God didn’t give this curse to men because he knew that we couldn’t handle it. Women suffer that pain. But it evaporates as soon as the child is in their arms. They understand the idea of no pain no gain. Many women even do it more than once. So great is the joy the pain is forgotten. That’s what Paul wants us to see. The groaning it temporary, the groaning is part of the process, the groaning will be over, and the joy will come, and the groaning will be forgotten.

That childbirth, which groaning inwardly, attests to the good news that is here. We groan because we look forward to the redemption of our bodies. That too is what the groaning of Jesus was all about. He came not only to win our way to heaven, but to restore the world to its pre-groaning state. He came not just to redeem you and me, not only to rescue you and me from hell, but to rescue us to, and for a perfect world. The creation groans in eager expectation because it has been released from the curse of human sin placed on it. Jesus groaned on the tree, like that Good Friday hymn says:

Tell me ye who hear him groaning, Was there ever grief like His? (LSB 451.2)

Jesus’ pain and suffering on the cross is to release you and me, and the whole creation from the bondage to sin. Jesus knows about your groaning, he groans too. He comes to fix it. He comes to end it. He comes to restore a perfect world for you and me to live in, in perfect bodies for all eternity. It is all finished. The new world, our new bodies are on the way. That’s Jesus promise through not only His death but through His resurrection from death. That’s His promise that you will be raised from death, too.

In the meantime, what about all that groaning? Well, it’s not really going to stop. Right now, things don’t work the way we want them to. Right now, there’s trouble, pain, and sorrow. Right now, we sin and or sin affects our relationships. Right now, death stalks us. Right now, nature seems to be out to get us. So, we groan wanting it all to come to an end. And Jesus knows what that groaning is like. He lived it too. He walked on sore feet. He was hungry when it was time to eat. He wept when His friends died. There’s nothing that happens to you that Jesus doesn’t understand. He is a human being. He groaned upon the earth. He knows what you need to overcome your troubles. And He delivers. He can because He is not just a human being, but God, too.

And look how the passage ends.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. (Romans 8:26-27 ESV)

So, when your troubles leave you groaning, and you don’t know where to turn. The Holy Spirit God’s gift to you in Holy Baptism is right there in the middle of your groaning, changing it into a prayer. And not just any prayer, but a prayer for just what you need. Amen.

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


Sunday, July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 12, 2020;

Matthew 13:1-9; The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost; July 12, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (Mt 13:1-9, ESV)

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

Wow this is such a familiar text…  in some ways that makes it really hard to preach about. First, we’ve all heard it so much we think we know everything there is to know about it. Second, there’s the real danger of saying something that disagrees with a long held and favorite understanding. “That’s not what pastor so-and-so said it meant!”  That’s the burden of a preacher. Just like the sower my job is to sow the Word.

You’ve all got some corn this morning. We’re going to talk a little bit about that in just a moment, but I gave you corn because it’s obvious the seed that the farmer is sowing in the parable is corn. Who can tell me why? The clue is right there in the text…  Well, it’s obviously corn because after the parable Jesus says, “He who has ears, let him hear.”  I couldn’t give you all a whole ear… but he who has ears let him hear. Just hang on to that seed a little longer, we’ll get back to it.

Let’s talk a little about this parable. It’s been called the parable of the sower, or the parable of the soils.  Now both of these have their merits. The seed lands on the soil and it grows according to what kind of conditions it finds there. Jesus is telling us that he casts his word out upon human beings and they react differently depending on their soil type.  Originally, I was going to stick the corn onto different colored pieces of paper, so that each of you would get different colors. But it didn’t seem quite right. After all I’m assuming that if you hear in church, you’re here to hear God’s Word, and have it sown on you. So, you must in some sense be “good soil.”  We could go into a detailed description of all the kinds of soil there are. Accusing those who aren’t here of being the path or rocky or weed infested. “Shame on you!” we could say about them. But the truth is that we all have those same kinds of problems. We reject God’s Word that we hear, it just bounces off of us especially when it tells us of sinful behavior we don’t want to change. Satan comes and snatches it away, “you don’t need to worry about that little sin. God isn’t really talking to you. There are so many people who are so much worse than you are, that one little weakness doesn’t matter. God doesn’t mind, he just wants you to be happy.”  We all at times don’t have God’s Word deeply rooted. Trouble and hardship in our lives, which should push us to Christ, instead our faith withers. Instead of looking to Christ and saying that without Him we are lost, we look inside ourselves to find the strength to go on. And we all have those weed that threaten to choke out God’s Word, too. It’s so easy to get out of the habit of coming to church. Life is busy all year round not to mention our “summer schedule.”  And there’s even the temptation to think that we come to church to be entertained. It’s easy to think that God’s Word by itself isn’t enough to do the job, we’ve got to make it more acceptable, by doing something flashy. All of it serves to distract us from hearing the simple message of God’s love for us in Jesus. Those weeds seem to grow up before we know it and choke out our interest in worship, and bible study, and prayer, and even a five-minute devotion from Portals of Prayer (a friend once called them “portable-Prayers”.  And then there’s the good soil… we’ll talk about that later. You see how it really doesn’t matter what type of soil we are. We’re really all kinds of soil. Jesus is describing where the seed of His Word falls. He’s describing human beings, just like you and me. Without faith in Jesus we’d all reject His Word. Satan’s word to us would always sound like the truth. Without faith in Jesus, we’d all get scorched by persecution and trouble. Without faith in Jesus, His Word would always be choked out of our lives.

Well, I think there’s different point being made by this parable. When we are looking at the soil, we are looking at us. Whenever we look at ourselves as the answer to any problem, we’re looking in the wrong place. God doesn’t promise that you’ll have the strength to do whatever you want or need to do. He promises that He’ll give you whatever you need. When we look at ourselves, in light of the soil the best we can do is say, “Let’s be good soil!”

We don’t have many farmers in the congregation, but we have a few. Can any one of you tell me what the dirt does to be good dirt? Can the rocky soil get rid of the rocks? Can the earth beneath the bean field zap its own weeds? Can the soil that lacks nitrogen get it on its own? Of course, it can’t. But a farmer can do something about it. Where I used to live in Creston, the soil was good by it flooded. Landowners hand dug tiles that drained the water. But the land couldn’t do it by itself.

But I don’t think this parable is so much about the soil as it is about the Sower. In fact, one way of interpreting parables is to look for the thing that’s out of place, look for the thing that people would never do. When you find that crazy thing, you’ll usually find what Jesus is saying about himself. So, what’s the thing out of place here? What’s the thing that someone would never do? Let me ask you this question. What’s up with this Sower? What farmer is going to run his planter over the road? What farmer is going to through his best seed corn in the fence row? What farmer isn’t going to do something about the weeds that are growing up among the plants he planted? You see, this isn’t a proper Sower. He’s very reckless with His seed. He seems to throw it all over and He doesn’t care where it lands.

Actually, what Jesus is saying is that He, as the Sower, is very generous with the gift of His Word. He spreads it all over, without regard to where it’s going to land (I like this picture… see the sower, he’s not even looking!). His Word is for all people, those who out right reject it, those who let the concerns of the world choke it out, people who don’t take is seriously, and even those who don’t hold on to it and treasure it.  You see, that’s God’s great love for all people. He wants all people to know what He has done for them in Christ. He spreads His Word high and low to all people. That’s the God we have. He loves to give and give in amounts and ways that are more than we can fathom. We see the generosity of God in Jesus. Not just that He feed people who needed food. Not just that He healed people who needed healing. But mostly that He gave His very life on the cross for sinful people. There were those who were there at the cross who mocked Him.  His death was even for them. You and I are sinful people who need the generosity of Christ. Our sins and failures keep us from a relationship with God. But God tells us in the seed of His Word that Jesus blood covers our sins. And that even though we aren’t “good soil” in the sense that we can earn His love, He gives us the forgiveness we need as a free gift for the sake of Jesus.

How about a concrete example? At the very beginning of the service we confessed our sins to God. Well, He knew them all already. He knows even the ones we don’t know and the ones we keep hidden very deep in our hearts. But have you ever noticed that God’s forgiveness isn’t conditional? The Word of God that I speak to you from Christ’s lips isn’t “I forgive you some of your sins.” Or “I forgive you only the sins you know about.”  Or “I forgive the sins of those of you who were in church last week.”  No Jesus says through me, “I forgive you all your sins…”  I’m not offering you my forgiveness. That wouldn’t mean a thing. I’m offering you Jesus forgiveness, in His own Words. You see that’s the Sower sowing the seed. It’s as if it took corn and threw it over all of you. Not caring where it lands. Not being specific to throw it at anyone. But to everyone. That’s the reason God has given you a pastor. He wants you to hear and see God forgiving you of all your sins. He wants you to be sure that the forgiveness that Jesus accomplished on the cross covers the 2000 years of history and gets to you right here and now. So, look at that corn in your hand. If you didn’t get any raise your hand now and the usher will give you some. Think of that corn there like God’s Word given to you, God’s forgiveness, just as if I’d thrown it out and hit you in the head.

I think that’s what the OT lesson is talking about too. Did you remember that phrase, “seed to the sower and bread to the eater?” (Isa 55:11)  When you are hungry for forgiveness, when you are starving to hear God’s Word, when you know that you are doomed without God, He gives you the Bread that you need.  He offers you forgiveness in Christ. He offers you comfort in the promises found in His Word. That’s bread to the eater. Eat the gifts of God here and be satisfied! God loves to give bread to the eater.

And there’s another thing. It’s in that “seed to the sower.”  You know what God offers to you. You’ve received it today through God’s Word. Think about the Sower again. He sows all over without regard to the reaction, without regard to the reception, without regard to the fruitfulness of the soil. You see that corn in your hand, that’s for you, and it’s for you to spread around. You see, there’s plenty where that came from. God sows His seed Himself; He doesn’t need you to do it. But He gives you another gift in that Word that He gives. He gives you the gift of sharing that Word with other people. He gives you the seed to sow right where you are. Now your first thought it that you’re supposed to find people to share the Word with that don’t know Jesus. But that wouldn’t be like the Sower in the parable would it? The person right next to you needs to hear about Jesus too. They already know about the forgiveness of Jesus. But they need to hear about it again. I need to hear it again. So, take one of those kernels of corn in your hand and give it to a person sitting next to you. And when you give it say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  Now take a kernel to someone across the room, and say “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  Wasn’t that easy? What a privilege to give the Word of God to someone who needed to hear it! Now this week you take that little pile of corn with you. Find just one person (it doesn’t matter who!) to give it to and say, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  When you are helping your neighbor, given them one of those kernels. They’ll look at you funny, but you can blame it on me. Tell them that your pastor made you do it. Don’t forget to say, “He wants me to tell you, Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.”  And when take the offering you can put one of those kernels in with your gift. That’s to help you remember that the money you give to the church here is for the sowing of God’s Seed. And the money that you give to support missionaries and mission projects is God’s gift to you to sow God’s Seed. And just think, Jesus doesn’t tell you to worry about the reception of the Seed. That’s His department, that’s His worry. Some of that Seed will produce fruit and some won’t. But God promises that it won’t return “empty” but will do what God wants it to do.

Well, even if you don’t give any away… remember, “Jesus died for you, you are forgiven.” Amen.

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


Sunday, July 05, 2020

Romans 7:15-25a; the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 5, 2020;

Romans 7:15-25a; the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost; July 5, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15–25a, ESV)

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

It is a persistent problem in the Christian church. Christians don’t seem to be any different from anyone else. We have the same temptations, same problems, and especially, the same sins. You hear people say, “You Christians are no different than anyone else. You are just hypocrites.” Well in one way it is true, we are no different from anyone else. We are sinners. Luther has it right in his explanation of the Lord’s Prayer, the Fifth Petition.

… we daily sin much and surely deserve nothing but punishment. (http://sites.cph.org/catechism/lords-prayer.asp)

St. Paul has it right doesn’t he? “I do the very thing I hate.” “I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” “I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want I keep on doing.” You and I, as Christians, understand these statements. We live them every day.

And what’s worse, we who believe the Bible to be God’s very word, have to hold sin is very serious.

For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23a, ESV)

The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20b, ESV)

And so our struggle with sin is a serious one, with serious consequences. Sinners, the Bible says, deserved death and hell. And that means you and me. We seem we deserve to die and go to hell. So why is it that we have this struggle? If we were truly Christians, wouldn’t we be passed sinning? If Christians sin, then what good is it to be a Christian?

Paul is explaining the issue. He says there is a struggle between “mind” and “flesh.” He says, in his mind, he wants to do what is right. But, in his flesh, he continues to do what is wrong. It’s almost as if it’s a struggle between two people, a good person and a bad person. And they’re both living in the same body. It is the reality of what life is like as a Christian. We want to do what God wants, but we continually sin and follow our own sinful desires.

As I’ve told you before, in the church when something is important, we give it a Latin name. The Christian church long recognized this struggle. It is called Simul Justus et Peccator. The word simul is where we get our word simultaneous. It means “at the same time” Justus you can see looks like the word justice. It means “righteous.” Et means “and.” And peccator is the Latin word for sinner. In other words, Simul Justus et Peccator means “at the same time saint and sinner.”

It means that Christians are two things, both sinful and forgiven. It’s not a contradiction but a paradox. These two things are simultaneously true. It’s not a half-and-half, as if we are half sinner and half saint. We are completely saved and made righteous through the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and we are still the same old sinner we have always been.

Let’s try it this way. We sin so we are sinners. But through faith in Jesus Christ God imputes, that is transfers to us, Jesus’ perfect life. God sees us now as completely righteous. St. Paul says in Colossians that through Holy Baptism (the declaration of your connection to Christ) … you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3, ESV) and in Galatians:

 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

Or another way to think of it is to ask this question: Will I be judged in order to get into heaven by my righteousness or by the righteousness of Christ? If I am judged by my own righteousness, everything is lost and I will spend eternity in hell. Because it is clear that, my life is filled with sin. But if I am judged by Jesus’ righteousness, everything good has been done for me. The righteousness that is mine is the perfect righteousness of Jesus. And can you see what good news that is? I am reconciled to God, which is forgiven of all of my sin, not because of anything that I have done or will do or can do, but solely on what has been accomplished by Christ.

Punishment for my sin, and my sin itself, is imputed or transferred to Christ. And on the cross, Jesus Christ paid the punishment in full for my sin. God does not negotiate sin. He doesn’t compromise his integrity. My sin is fully punished. I am saved by this double transaction. And it is all the work of God through Jesus Christ. And it is yours and mine through faith that what God has done is done for me and for you.

So even though I am forgiven in God’s sight my sinful flesh remains. So as God’s child, I want to do right but struggle to do it. I know what God has done for me, in Jesus Christ, and I want to please him by doing good, but my heart is full of sin and leads me astray and away from God.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17, ESV)

It’s not like the old saying where if you teach a man to fish you feed him forever. We Christians realize that we need a new fish to be given to us every day. That’s what God does for us. Every day our old sinful nature, Martin Luther called it the Old Adam, is drowned to death. That’s what holy baptism is, a drowning of the old sinful nature. But we don’t believe baptism is a single event that happened in our past. It is an ongoing life lived. Luther again from 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.

Or as he said, the old Adam needs to be drowned every day because he’s a good swimmer. There is no trying to live a better life that will accomplish anything. There is only living in Holy Baptism. Living in forgiveness won by Jesus Christ on the cross, and nothing else.

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20, ESV)

We don’t focus on doing good, we focus on the good that Jesus has done for us. By faith, we look to the God-man Jesus Christ who gave his life for us on the cross. We don’t go out looking for good works to do; we do the good works that God has placed before us. And when we find sin in the good works we do, and we always will, we drowned them in repentance and receive forgiveness and the good work stands.

The struggle is there. It will exist in you until the day you die when you’re Old Adam is finally put to death permanently. Then your new creation will stand before God in righteousness and purity forever. The struggle will be over. Sin will be gone. And you rejoice in the salvation given to you as a free gift by God in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, June 28, 2020

Matthew 10:34-42; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 28, 2020;

Matthew 10:34-42; Second Sunday after Pentecost; June 28, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

 34"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. 37Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 40"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person's reward. 42And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  (Matt 10:34-42, ESV)

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

You know, life would be much easier if Jesus hadn’t said things like, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.”  It really doesn’t sound much like “good news” does it? To you and me and our everyday lives “good news” would be an end to conflict, and an end to trouble. An end to conflict in our cities, and end to racially charged riots, and end to conflict over COVID lockdowns. That's what we think of when we think of peace. But just try to explain Jesus' words to those skeptical relatives that we all have. You know; those people who would just love to point a verse like this and tell you Jesus is advocating violence, just like any other religion trying to get power. What are you going to say?

After all when I read it, it sure sounds like Jesus, the “prince of peace,” says that he’s come to bring strife and trouble into our lives and not only that but to break up our families too… Listen again; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.  …to set children against their parents, parents against their children. He’s come to make enemies inside of families. It’s a difficult verse for us to swallow. Jesus can’t mean what he’s saying, can he? Does Jesus, the baby in the manger sleeping in “heavenly peace” surrounded by angels singing about peace on earth, bring peace or strife?

Well, many people believe that Jesus comes to bring peace, in spite of what he says. In fact, in general people, even those who don’t call themselves Christian think highly of Jesus. One of the leaders of today’s unrest said, “Jesus was the greatest racial radical of his day!”  They love Jesus when He tells stories about how to get along with each other, and to care for those who are less fortunate than we are. They love Jesus when He says, “love your enemies.”  They love Jesus when He tells a good story about how we should care for other people, like the “Good Samaritan.”  But they don’t want to hear from Jesus when He says that without Him, without His death on the cross, they are lost. They don’t want to hear Jesus when He says that without Him, they face an eternity of God’s punishment in hell. They don't want the Jesus who says with him life will be full of conflict. The don’t want to hear about a Jesus who violently drives the money changers out of the temple. And when he says, “And people will want to kill you if you follow me.” People don’t want to hear Jesus when he says stuff like that.

Think about the family that peacefully co-exists with one another, until one of them begins to say what they believe about Jesus. Suddenly the family is in conflict. Those who don’t know Jesus don’t want to hear about Him as their only Savior. They don’t want to hear about sin and repentance. They don’t want to hear about changing their lives to conform to God’s will. Those who have ideas about Jesus that don't come from scripture don't want to hear that what they believe is wrong. From the outside, from the world’s point of view this family was better off before the “good news” came to them. The members of the family will push toward compromise, “for the sake of peace.”  “You keep your Jesus to yourself.”  "We all believe the same things anyway."  The only real thing that is true about all religion is that they are all incompatible with each other. The problem is Jesus calls us all to be witnesses of what He has done and speak the truth about what he teaches. He calls us all to bring the life saving Word of Jesus to those who are around us. He doesn't promise that it will be easy. He does call us to be faithful.

June 25 is the anniversary of the presentation of the Augsburg confession (1530). That's the document that Luther and the princes in Germany stood in the face of certain death to testify about Jesus and say that the church had forgotten what Jesus really taught. They stood before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and risked everything and said this:

Our Churches teach that people cannot be justified before God by there own strength, merits, or works. People are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when they believe that they are received into favor and that their sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake. By His death, Christ made satisfaction for our sins. God counts this faith for righteousness in His sight. (Romans 3:21-26; 4:5)

And don't think this confession of faith brought peace! It put them in direct conflict with the Roman Catholic church and the Holy Roman Emperor. They had decided ahead of time they would rather die than compromise the truth. It would have been easier, more peaceful, to compromise their confession. Instead they confessed what the bible teaches about Jesus clearly and strongly. They did it because they knew that Jesus was at stake. They did it because they knew that real life, true life is only found in Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of sins he won for us on the cross. And that forgiveness only comes through faith in Jesus.

And it happens for us too. We are daily under pressure to keep silent at work and not speak about Jesus. We are under pressure to not point out the errors in other churches for the sake of community togetherness. We are under pressure in our families when we are told just to keep quiet, keep Jesus to ourselves for the sake of peace in the family. We are under pressure when we are scolded for not taking communion with them in their churches and not letting them commune in ours. When Jesus talks about bearing your cross, this is exactly what he is talking about.

The consequences of failure to confess Jesus is dire. There is no middle ground when it comes what Jesus teaches. We may not face death for our confession, but we are often tempted to give in to family pressure. The problem is, to give up Jesus is to give up the only real life there is.

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. (v39)

When we accept the sword, carry the cross and suffer the loss of family or community relationships, or even the loss of our physical life, we find what Jesus offers is worth more than all. We find real life forever with him.

Our confession is this:  You and I are sinful people we fail all the time. That’s why we need a Savior. That’s why Jesus lived a life that was always headed for the cross. He didn’t just die on the cross; He died on the cross on purpose. When He was pinned up there on the wood, He had you in His heart and your sins on His shoulders. He died to take your sins away and give you a new life a real life free from the effects of sin. Through faith in Jesus Baptism makes you dead to sin. Dead as Jesus was in the tomb. Dead as all sin deserves. That’s how you were with Jesus on the cross, dying to sin. That’s how He is with you now living a life that isn’t controlled by sin. You are alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:1-11)

So, you know what? You’re going to see some conflict when you say these things about Jesus, when you dare to confess the truth about Him. That’s ok, that’s to be expected. In a way it means that you’re on the right track. Martin Luther once said that when everything was going smoothly in his life, he worried that he wasn’t doing anything to get Satan’s notice. There will be conflict when you speak the truth about Jesus, it is to be expected. But there is nothing more important then the message of new life in Jesus Christ. Amen.

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

 


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Jeremiah 23:3-8; Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2020;

Jeremiah 23:3-8; Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2020;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ “Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when they shall no longer say, ‘As the Lord lives who brought up the people of Israel out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought up and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the north country and out of all the countries where he had driven them.’ Then they shall dwell in their own land.” (Jeremiah 23:3-8, ESV)

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

Jeremiah had gained a reputation, and it wasn’t good. “The complainer,” he wasn’t the kind of guy you’d invite to one of your summer bonfires. Beside the fact that he never attended social events, (he said God forbid him to attend any at all, no matter what the reason) whenever you found him in a group of people he was always shouting out his doom and gloom. It was a real downer for any gathering when Jeremiah showed up. He also had other ‘social deficiencies.’  He had no family, he was well of marrying age and yet, no wife, no children. According to Jewish custom that just made him weird. Even his own relatives refused to claim him, and his friends’ made a plot to have him killed. He was more than the black sheep from his hometown of Anathoth. He sat in prison for a lengthy time because he had the gall to tell the King to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, who were pounding at the gate demanding tribute. “It was God’s will!” he said. For much of the time in his ministry, Jeremiah’s words were ignored. He didn’t have popular things to say.

Jeremiah didn’t like his role as prophet ‘against’ Israel. He pleaded with God not to be given the burden he was carrying. He himself mourned for his beloved Jerusalem, at the fate that was coming to it because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people. But he continued to speak what God wanted him to say. Weather it was popular or not. But, always tucked in Jeremiah’s message of God’s displeasure at Israel, was a little fragment of hope, a ray of light that shown through, that told of God’s great love, and God’s plan to save his people from the problem they’d gotten themselves into. Today’s text is one of those little fragments. Right before this text he condemns the Kings of Israel, as the ones who have led the people astray. “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!”  They had allowed the people to slip away from the true worship of YHWH, and some had even promoted worship of false gods. And now God’s people were now going to pay the consequences. They would be scattered over the whole world, separated from their land and separated from each other, just as they were already separated from God. But God’s warning was ignored, and so was His promise…  The promise is what we really want to concentrate on today.

God’s promise to the people, who weren’t listening, was that, even though they would be scattered, God himself would gather them again. It would be such a significant thing in the lives of His people that they wouldn’t talk about the Exodus from Egypt anymore, but they would remember their return from being scattered. It would be a ‘new’ exodus, a new event to remember God’s salvation of His people. And Jeremiah tells them this Good News in wonderful, easy to understand terms. Even though they would be scattered, God would be their shepherd and gather them together again. The people that Jeremiah was talking to, they understood what a shepherd was, this was a picture they could understand and relate to. There were shepherds all around them all the time. A simple walk outside the city walls would find shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. And don’t forget one of our favorite passages of scripture was also very likely one of theirs. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want...” They already had a beautiful example of God as their good shepherd. The Psalm told them how he would lead them, take care of them, and bring them home. And Jeremiah explained that that is exactly what God is going to do… again. He was going to lead them home from exile, back to their beloved city. He would supply them with new shepherds that would care for them properly. Then they would not be afraid anymore. Even though there would be the exile, God, their good shepherd, would gather them together again, and lead them home.

But Jeremiah’s beautiful words went unheeded. In fact, at one point in time they were burned line by line by the king. As he tore each line from the page…  First, it seemed, the people would have to face the exile, then they would understand and appreciate God’s good news for them.

So what does all this have to do with us? What does something that happened nearly 3000 years ago have to do with us… sitting here Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN at the cusp of the 21st Century?

“‘The days are coming,’ says the Lord.” Jeremiah wrote. Right in the middle of his proclamation to the people of Israel. “The days are coming…” it was like an exclamation point, or a neon pointer. “Pay attention to this! It’s about more than just returning from exile. It’s about more than replacing bad kings with good ones. It’s about the time when God himself will come.” Right in the middle of telling the people about how God was going to deliver them from exile, how he was going to return them home, he tells them about how God himself is coming.

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

You see all of the sudden Jeremiah was talking about more that a regular king, more than a regular shepherd. He was talking about the promised Savior, the ‘righteous branch’ from David. The King who was greater than any of the kings they had previously known. This king would make it possible for them to live in safety. He would bring them righteousness, that is, he would make it possible for them to be counted right in God’s eyes.

What Jeremiah told the people of God was more than good news following bad news. It was more than telling them that even though they would have to go into exile, they would eventually be able to return. He was telling them about the promised Advent of God. He was telling them about the coming day when God himself would come and save them from their sin. Jeremiah was sharing with them the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ. That is the very heart of Advent.

Today, we have gathered to tell the Good News about the coming of Jesus Christ. The Righteous Branch has come. We have seen the Shepherd / King. The story is impressed in our minds; Mary and Joseph, Bethlehem, the Angels, and the Shepherds; the baby lying in a manger. The adult Jesus walking, talking, breathing, dying and rising again. The days have truly come, just as God said they would through Jeremiah! And it is Good News. The Good Shepherd came for a reason. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:14-15, ESV) The baby whose coming we remember, whose coming we look forward to celebrating, is the Lord our Righteousness. His purpose, his plan was to save the people of God.

 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26, ESV)

Jesus Christ, the baby in the manger, the Suffering Servant from Isaiah, the Good Shepherd in the 23 Psalm, the True King of Israel laid down his very life, to bring to us the righteousness of God. The cross and the cradle are forever linked…  He came to us in the cradle. He saved us through his death on the cross.

That’s the Good News Jeremiah was telling the people who weren’t listening to him. It’s the Good News the he’s telling us. Amen.

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