Sunday, September 26, 2021

Job.19.25-26; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 26, 2021;

Job.19.25-26; Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 26, 2021;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN; For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! Job 19:25-26 Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Well, this could be an Easter Sermon, right? But in a way, I’m really preaching on James. He says, “You have heard of the steadfastness of Job…” So, I got to thinking how best to illustrate what James is talking about. So, why not use his own illustration.
This text comes to us most often as one of my favorite Easter hymns. (In the old hymnal it wasn’t even in the Easter section.) We sing in that hymn, “I Know That My Redeemer Lives!” That's the same thing when we say when we say:
Christ is Risen!
He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
Now the really amazing thing about those words is they weren't first spoken on Easter. They were spoken under very much different circumstances. They come from the middle of the book of Job. Now you remember Job. He's the guy that lost everything.
Satan went to God and asked. “Hey, have you seen that guy Job down there?” God answered that He had.
“Well, he's doing pretty well, isn't he? He's a great guy doing everything right, huh?” God agreed.
“He wouldn't be so high and mighty if he weren't so rich. If he had some trouble in his life, he'd be first in line to tell You to take a flying leap.” God listened. “I've got a deal for you,” Satan continued, “you let me take away some of that stuff and we'll just see how good he really is.”
God allowed it. “Only,” God commanded, “don't touch him.”
And so, the accuser did just as God said. And in a matter of a few moments Job lost everything, one of his servants came to tell him that his oxen and donkeys had been stolen by marauding hordes and his servants were all killed. Before he even finished speaking another breathless servant came and reported the same for his camels. Before he was finished another came with the worst news yet. His children were all killed by a freak twister. But even in the face of all that loss, Job's faith didn't waver. He blessed God in spite of all that had happened to him.
Now Satan wasn't satisfied so he went back to God. “Well?” God asked.
“That's nothing.” the devil replied. “He's still got his health. If you took that away he'd crumble into a pile of doubt and despair.”
“Ok,” God answered. “But don't kill him.”
And so, Satan let him have it. Job was covered with sores from head to foot. He was miserable. He itched so mercilessly that he had to use pieces of broken pottery to find relief. And still Job didn't give up. When his wife told him to curse God and die, he refused. When his friends said he must have insulted God do deserve such punishment, Job didn't budge. He insisted that he was clean. Now collectively we know all about this kind of stuff. It happens to us all the time. Our hearts ache when we lose loved ones to death. Our lives loose meaning when we can't work anymore. Moving away from home for the first time is an adventure but the broken home ties are hard to live with. The possibility of failure in school seems to loom over our heads all the time. Sickness makes it impossible to do what we want to do. Anytime we set out to start anything we know full well we may not finish. The shadow of death covers everything we do. So, we understand what Job was going through. Well, at least a part of it. It just that he got it all at once. Most of the time we just aren't as patent a Job. I know that I am not. In fact, there was a time when I was curled up in a little ball in the closet. You've maybe been there, too. You've felt a bit of what Job felt. Wondering why God allowed all this to happen. The answer? I don't know.
Well, I’m in good company, Job never knew either. He had doubts, too. He asked God to tell him what he'd done to deserve all this trouble. God didn't answer. Job's wife and friends gathered around him and spoke what they thought was comfort and instead made things worse.
And that brings us to these two verses that Job speaks. Out of the depth of his despair, when there was nothing left to hang on to, Job gives us a glimpse of what's in his heart. And that glimpse is a glimpse of faith. It is such a powerful confession of faith that it has inspired God's faithful people for generations. Yet it is a very simple confession too. I know that my Redeemer lives. What a line packed with meaning. There in the ashes of his life, Job proclaims that God will deliver him. God himself with save him. You see that word Redeemer is packed full of meaning. He was using a specific word there that referenced a member of your family who would come to your rescue when you were in trouble. Your Kinsman-Redeemer was to speak up for you in court should you need a defense. If you lost your land, your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to buy it back to keep it in the family. If you lost your freedom to slavery your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to buy you back. If you lost your life, your Kinsman-Redeemer was required to marry your wife and have your children to carry on your name. Now Job had lost everything. He had no relatives left to act as Kinsman-Redeemer. And yet he says that his redeemer lives. Besides when God is the one whose allowed all the trouble you have to come into your life who can speak in your defense to God except God himself.
Do you see the remarkable thing that Job is saying here? The flesh and blood man, Job, is declaring that he believes God will come to his defense as a flesh and blood relative... a kinsman. One like himself. He will see him, Job goes on. my eyes will behold him... with these very eyes he says. A real, physical Savior to redeem him from the trouble that God has caused him. One to stand in his defense in God's courtroom. Satan may accuse Job of being a phony, but Job believe God will come in person to his defense. What a statement of faith. God did restore everything to Job. But the words that Job spoke don't really come to a complete meaning until a few thousand years later. I know that my Redeemer Lives! Now that’s what I’m talking about. That's joy. We've got problems every day, they don't go away just because we say nice words. Sin darkens our lives from the inside out. In spite of how we think about ourselves our troubles are really self-inflicted. We live broken lives that hurt those we love the most. Sickness lurks around every corner as a reminder that our real enemy is coming for us very soon. Death has our number. No matter how good we think we are we all face the reality of lying in a grave. Life's end is sooner than we think, and it seems so permanent from our perspective. We need a Kinsman-Redeemer. One who can do something about the trouble in our lives. One who can take care of that great trouble that we face. Someone who can take the sting out of death. We need the Kinsman-Redeemer Job was talking about. We need God-in-the-flesh to take care of a God sized problem. We need God-in-the-flesh to destroy death for us.
And so, He did. At Christmas time we marvel at a God-in-the-flesh wiggling infant in a manger. As we stare in wonder, it’s easy to forget that He was born for a purpose. And that purpose was to die. But still Jesus was born God in human form. He's Job's Kinsman-Redeemer. He's our Kinsman-Redeemer, one of us, our relative, flesh and blood, a whole complete human being... yet more than human, God also. He stood on the earth, just as Job said he would. He walked on it. He slept on it. And He bled and died on it. That's the Kinsman-Redeemer part. Jesus stood before the authorities and faced the death penalty. In fact, He stood before God and faced the sin penalty. He pleaded our case in this way, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” “I'll take it instead.” And He did. On the cross He carried the very heavy load of our sin. His death in place of ours.
I know that my redeemer lives! Here's the most important part. He's not still dead. His lifeless body lying in the grave didn't stay there. He died our death, and He rises our resurrection, too! He's bigger than death. He's a Kinsman-Redeemer like no other. One who can do whatever He wants. And what He wants is described by Job very clearly.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. My heart faints within me! Jesus didn't die for Himself. He died for us. He didn't rise from the dead for Himself either. He rose for us. That's what Job was talking about. Seeing God, in the flesh, in a resurrected body. New and clean and fresh without the trouble that comes with our sinful lives.
I know that my redeemer lives! And He promises that even though I will die, He will raise me to new life again. And in Job's words, I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. When we are raised from the dead and stand face to face with our Crucified and Risen Lord, all our earthly troubles will melt away into nothingness. These problems that cause us so much trouble now will seem as if they are nothing. You see, all that stuff that we think is so important doesn't really mean a thing, compared to the Redeeming Love of our Kinsman-Redeemer Jesus. The love that caused him to suffer and die for our sin. And a love that is so great that he rose again from our grave to live and breathe again. And He lives right now. I know that my redeemer lives! Right now, he's alive. Right now, he's speaking about me to God the father, defending me. Forgiving my sins... Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

James.3.13-4:10; 17th Sunday after Pentecost; September 19, 2021;

James.3.13-4:10; 17th Sunday after Pentecost; September 19, 2021;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 3:13–4:10, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In your bulletin is a color copy of the painting by Sir Lawrence Alma-Tedema titled "the Death of the First Born" (1872). I want you to look at the painting carefully. This famous painting is set in Egypt after the 10th plague sent by God to release his people from slavery in Egypt. The first thing that strikes you about the painting is Pharaoh's eyes. Here's a man who thought he was wise. In fact, he thought he was God. Moses and Aaron stand in the upper right-hand corner of the painting looking over the dreadful scene. Pharaoh holds in his arms his dead son, the firstborn. His stare is vacant. Gone are the days when he believed he was stronger than the God of the Hebrews. Gone is the laughter of his son. Gone is his relationship with his queen. Gone is his pride. This is a defeated man. One could hope that at this moment, when all was lost, Pharaoh would bend his knee to the one true God and humble himself. But it is not to be. We know how the story ends. Pharaoh's army's drowned in the depth of the Red Sea. Death upon death has Pharaoh's pride brought upon his family and his nation. The Bible simply says "and Pharaoh's heart was hardened". In fact, I think in the empty gaze of Pharaoh's eyes you can see the anger welling up. He's about to order his armies out to destroy the Hebrews. This is where pride ends.
In our text, St. James addresses no less a problem to the Christians in his letter. What he sees is fellow Christians quarreling and fighting, all because of their pride. He sees Christians choosing their own desires over God's will for their communion. Their sin is no less than Pharaoh's. Their sin is the same sin that led Adam and Eve to eat the fruit forbidden by God. Pride is the oldest sin in the world.
James does not speak delicately. God opposes the proud. Pride before God will be judged. It destroys relationships. It destroys communities. It destroys trust. St. James in fact calls it "demonic". From the pit of hell, you may say. He says also, "for where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice."
We see it everywhere. Everywhere people are caught up in their own desires, their own pride. They hold themselves and their standing above their neighbors. They forget that God calls us to care for those nearest to us. So often it is pride that prevents it. We have what we have because we have earned it. They don't have because they are lazy and deserve what they don't have.
And yet here, James stabs the Word into our own hearts. We are guilty of pride ourselves. We marvel at Pharaoh after all that he had seen and yet thought that he could wrestle with God and win. With each plague worse than the previous, leading to the death of his son. But when we look honestly, we understand that in our life over and over again pride leads us to the place where Pharaoh is. Pride leads to despair. Pride leads to loss. Pride leads to death. That is the result of our sin.
All we need do is paint our faces around Pharaoh's eyes. We see there our pride. Our pride that leads to murder. Oh, not actual bloodshed, but the pride that places our wants above the needs of our neighbor. And therefore, breaks the commandment that says,
You shall not murder.
What does this mean?
We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.
Our pride that leads to quarreling because our pride can never be wrong. We would rather destroy our relationships than admit our shortcomings. And our pride that says all we have is for our own pleasure.
And James says to us, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble." (4:6) and so our pride convicts us. We stand before God sinful creatures deserving his full condemnation. And what are we to do? Is there anything that can save us from this body of death?
Look again at Pharaoh. Look again at his eyes. This time look at him as a different Father. This Father mourns the death of his only Son, His first born. Notice how the dead son is painted in a very Christlike pose. The Father holds in his arms his Son slaughtered by human pride. This Father, the God of the universe, can turn this death into something more. This Father raises His Son from death to new life. Now look into the eyes of a Heavenly Father. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name… Forgive us our trespasses", we say. Forgive us our pride. Forgive us our selfishness. And this Father does. He sent his only Son to the cross. And there he bears our sinful pride. And there the Father sees it all. There the Father punishes it all. He separates himself from Jesus Christ on the cross. Jesus suffers the hell of pride's punishment. And it is ours that he suffers. It is for us. And also, for us, he rises from the dead.
"Draw near to God…" St. James says. "Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double minded." Don't make the mistake of Pharaoh, humble yourselves before God. See yourself as a prideful sinful human needing his Grace, his forgiveness. This is the prayer of repentance. Listen to Psalm 119
Let my cry come before you, O Lord; give me understanding according to your word! Let my plea come before you; deliver me according to your word.” (Psalm 119:169–170, ESV)
Forgiveness follows repentance. Not because of repentance but because of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sin is forgiven at the cross and delivered to you through God's word. It is received by the repentant heart. In the repentant heart lives anew in the joy of that forgiveness. And puts away pride and selfishness. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

James.3.1-12; The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 12, 2021;

James.3.1-12; The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 12, 2001;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.” (James 3:1–12, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
I have a confession to make. I don’t like this text. First of all, James puts me in the category of “being judged with greater strictness.” I am a teacher in the church, after all. And then he puts the nail in my coffin by telling one of the ways I will be judged… by my tongue.
Well, this is the book of James, after all. Luther called James a “straw epistle.” So that means, I can just ignore it, right? You don’t know how tempting it was to do something about that. There’s a little mark in the Lectionary where I could start reading. Right there after the judgement for me stuff. I could have just started with,
For we all stumble in many ways…
I doubt many of you would have even noticed. And that way the text would have applied just to you. As I thought about it, I was very grateful there aren’t bibles out there. I really don’t like the idea of standing before God to be judged for my idle, evil, blood-stained tongue. In Matthew, Jesus himself agrees.
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,” (Matthew 12:36, ESV)
Jesus himself said,
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” (Matthew 5:22, ESV)
Yikes, “every carless word” and “whoever says ‘You Fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” So much for being a pastor and being “closer to God.” He won’t give me a break. Harsher judgment is mine. That’s what the text says… harsher. You do know what I say my three most important rules of bible interpretation are: “Context, context, context.” Well, I just can’t get around the fact that James puts the context right here on my lips. Maybe I should have stuck with my six-figure job, making computers behave. But instead, I make my living with my tongue (ugh!), and mine is tainted. You know what Jesus says to do with a part of the body that causes you to sin. “Cut it out!”
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” (Matthew 5:29, ESV) Now, how am I supposed to put food on the table?
I could try to excuse myself.
• “Everybody does it”
• “At least I don’t curse and swear (much)”
• “I live alone, so I don’t speak to many people”
• “I really only tongue lash people who deserve it”
• “It’s a law and gospel thing. I speak the law only when necessary.”
But God’s Word isn’t going to let me off the hook. Paul says I know better.
They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 2:15–16, ESV)
Well Jesus being the standard, I’m in trouble.
James uses those two examples, the horse, and the ship. I had this absurd image run through my head. I was out on Lake Superior floating face down steering myself around with my tongue, like a ship. Lord, grant me a bridle to tame my tongue.
So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. (James 3:5, ESV)
Oops. Ok, I wasn’t making six-figures. That was a probably just a boast, to impress you. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”” (Psalm 12:3–4, ESV) Yikes. I’m sunk. I’m a dead man. Please forgive me if I’ve hurt you with my tongue.

Ah but now, it’s your turn. James is speaking particularly to “teachers in the church” but he doesn’t leave you out. Ever had a carless word? Said something you wish you hadn’t? Regretted a tongue lashing? Got over harsh with your kids? Have you ever spoken a word that cost a friendship, that you wish you could take back? Have you not spoken up with a neighbor/friend who used God’s name in vain? Were you silent on the topic of abortion, couples living together, or (God forbid!) Homosexual marriage?
Think about those things as you think about Jesus. Sure, he got angry and drove the buyers and sellers out of the temple. But that was righteous anger. Don’t think that you can judge the heart of others like he did. Jesus knows the true motivation. He spoke harshly to the scribes and pharisees. Again, he judges them against God’s perfect righteousness, calling them “tombs full of dead bones” (Matthew 23:27) and “snakes.” (Matthew 23:33) Only God himself, can judge the heart and declare a hypocrite. At the same time, he spoke kind words to those who needed it. (John 8:11) And his word brought healing.
So often your words (and mine) are harsh and cause unintended (or not) pain. So often, we are silent when we should speak up. So often we find ourselves saying “Raca.” The word Jesus uses when he says, “whoever says, ‘You fool!’” Oh, how hard it is, especially when it comes to politics! So, when you and I are stacked up against Jesus, we all fail miserably. You are bound for hell right there beside me. “Well, it’s a fine mess you gotten us into. (Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy) Oh, tongue of yours and mine.”

It is surely a mess. But… Jesus came to clean up messes, just like this one. It’s not that God just sweeps our sins under the carpet and ignores them. He can’t do that. He is perfectly holy and just. All the messes we find ourselves in because of our sin, demand justice. And there is only one punishment for breaking the holy law of God, death. Ours, and it’s an eternal one.
Lutheran Theologian Francis Pieper said,
Our guilt was imputed to Christ (He was made a curse for us. Gal 3), He also assumed our obligation to keep the law. F Pieper
Jesus was perfectly holy and just. He kept all of God’s law perfectly. Not a jot or tittle was broken (Matthew 5:18). He was God’s answer to fallen humanity. Someone had to do it right. His tongue was in perfect check, no unnecessary tongue lashings. He always spoke when the law required speaking. He never spoke when it caused unnecessary harm. But instead of being our condemnation, our impossible example, Jesus is our substitute. He became the curse we are required to bear. The word imputed in Pieper’s quote means accounted to. Perfect Jesus was made a sinner, our sins were accounted to him. Our foul tongue, his. Just as the reference to Galatians three says there.
Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”—” (Galatians 3:13, ESV)
Perfect Jesus, hanging on a tree, cursed because of you and me.
And don’t forget those two all important words “for us.” These two simple words may be the most
important in all of the Bible. In Greek, ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν. Jesus is a curse, for us! Jesus is a curse “for us”! He redeems us from the “curse of the law.” That is punishment in hell. He snatched us back from the gates of hell, just as we are ready to go through. He says, “These are mine; I have saved them from this fate.”
And there’s more. He also assumed our obligation to keep the law. It sounds backwards. This is how we naturally think:
• “Now that Jesus has canceled our debt, we are obligated to keep the record clean.”
• “We are now obligated to keep the law, so as to not accumulate more on cursed Jesus.”
• “Jesus fulfilled his obligation, now you have to fulfill yours.”
Jesus takes the whole obligation, or it would be worthless. You and I can never live up to the law. We can never keep our tongues in complete check. So, if Jesus leaves anything for us to do, we will instantly flip around and be headed right back through the gates of Hell again. We want to be in charge of our salvation, or at least one little part. But Jesus will have none of it. “I have redeemed you totally. You are mine, not by anything you have done, but simply because I chose you. That lying, cheating, boasting, blood-soaked tongue can’t take any credit.”
Dr. Martin Luther in the Heidelberg Disputation:
The law says, "Do this" and it is never done. Grace says, "Believe in this" and all is already done.
The law can never be our motivation for doing things right because we can’t do it right. It is only the Gospel, Jesus on the cross “for you.” The Holy Spirit that the Father and Son pushes into our hearts, as a gift of faith, is what gives us the ability to do any part of it right. But not for the credit of it, not for the boasting. True motivation is found in the Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. So, when the temptation comes to speak when we shouldn’t, He gently rebukes us. When the temptation comes to keep silent, he urges us to speak. When we don’t listen, we do suffer consequences. But those are only earthly, temporary, consequences. We then, prompted again by the Holy Spirt, attempt to set things right pronouncing forgiveness offered to all only in Jesus. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.
The Gospel turns it on its head. The same tongue that curses, becomes the blessing. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Psalm 146; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 5, 2021;

Psalm 146; The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost; September 5, 2021;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN; Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul! I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being. Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous. The LORD watches over the sojourners; he upholds the widow and the fatherless, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin. The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the LORD! ” (Psalm 146, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Sometimes you just have to let God fix it, because if you fix it, you are going to jail. (“Klara Kalu on Instagram)
It’s about faith. Like one of those “faith walks?” You know how they go. One person is blindfolded and the other leads them all around… up and down steps, around corners, through doorways, maybe even outside… The whole idea is that, if you are the blindfolded person, you’re supposed to learn to trust the person who is leading you around. If you’re the leader then you are supposed to show yourself as trustworthy. You do it by example, by showing that you can trust someone else, or that you are trustworthy. The “faith walk” is supposed to begin to help you to develop a new relationship with another person, a relationship based on trust. I was terrible at these. I was quite picked on in grade school, so I could never really come to trust the person who was leading me around. And of course, the other guys got all the pretty girls.
Just think about how important trust is in life. Just think about how people react when their trust has been violated. Remember the time when you broke a promise to a friend. Remember how you felt when the secret you told came back to you from a different source. Think about scandals that violated trust, especially those involving clergy. It isn’t just feelings that are hurt when trust is violated. Life is full of placing our trust in one place or another. In a way life is a faith walk. It’s important to be able to put your trust in someone. It’s important to learn who is trustworthy. Life is a faith walk…. In some sense you can pick who you want to lead you around while you are blindfolded.
The Psalm for today is about trust. The author of this poem isn’t known. No one knows exactly when it was written either. But some of the language suggests that it was written after the great Babylonian exile. God’s people had lost what God had given them because of this very issue. They had trusted in themselves, they had trusted in their kings, they had trusted their false prophets, they had trusted everything except for their God. God reacted. It cost them dearly. They were about to spend a generation away from the God given land they loved. The exile was the help them learn what it meant to trust in God, alone.
The author says here,
“Don’t let the princes of this world lead you! They will fail you. They will lead you astray.” He sounds like he knows this from personal experience. Maybe the government that lived under failed. I’m not sure that in many ways we trust our government far too much. We trust it to bail us out of poverty, we trust it to take care of us in times of disaster and provide for us when we retire. We trust it to provide for our health care. We trust it to keep the peace, and we trust it to be just. We trust it to take care of those who protect us. While God has given us government, we are not to put our trust in it. Governments fail. The daily news is full of crumbling governments. Don’t think for a moment that our government here is so strong that it can never fail. Don’t think that this democratic form of government, this country, is so blessed by God that it can never fall apart.
“Don’t trust in princes.”
The Psalmist says.
Don’t let mere mortal men lead you in your faith walk either. Don’t trust what human beings say or do. A popular TV show from a few years ago said, “Everybody lies.” In a way the psalmist is saying, “Don’t make glorious plans with them. Death is in their future.” When they die all their plans come to nothing. Death is the great equalizer. It removes wealth, it cancels plans, it ends partnerships, and it ignores social status. Don’t trust mortal men either. Oh, in case you forgot, you are in the category of untrustworthy people. You, too, will die.
And, even before death, we find people untrustworthy, we find ourselves untrustworthy. We constantly make promises we don’t keep. We constantly forget to do the things that we should. There are even times when we make promises that we have no intention at all keeping. We know who we are, and we know that other people are the same.
Life is a faith walk… but, you can’t trust in yourself, you can’t trust in other people, you can’t trust in government, who can you trust in? Well, the Psalm has an answer for that; it says God is the one who is trustworthy.
Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God,” (Psalm 146:5, ESV)
When God leads you around, even when you can’t see where you are going, you can trust when here leads you.
The Psalm isn’t just speaking in generalities, it tells us exactly why God is trustworthy. “Because” it says,
[He] made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free;” (Psalm 146:6–7, ESV)
This is First Article.
I believe in God the father almighty maker of heaven and earth. God created everything, he preserves and protects is. He has an interest in how it all goes. That includes being trustworthy. There’s even more though (there always is with God), and here is where the faith walk becomes even more interesting.
He is faithful and trustworthy forever.
The psalm says. Even when ‘blindfolded’ people are oppressed, God helps them. Here the Hebrew language for oppressed means economically oppressed, the poor. He helps those who are lead through hunger. He leads prisoners so that they become free, he helps the blind to see, and the humble and people who have no place to call their own; and even the widow… He helps. You see, no matter where your faith walk leads you, no matter what condition you find yourself in… if you’re trust is in “the God of Jacob” you will find him faithful.
Oftentimes we find it difficult to trust in the God of Jacob. When we are honest with ourselves, we know that this is true. As you go through life, as you go on the faith walk, sometimes you trust God a lot, and sometimes you don’t feel like you can trust him at all. It’s not unusual, because our sin constantly threatens to separate us from God. While we are walking around blindfolded, we will at times try to pull our hand out of God’s hand so that we can rip of our blindfold. We don’t always trust where God is leading us. Those are the times when we God is most faithful. If you remember the Gospel lesson from last week, Jesus is the one who said that no one could snatch us out of our Father’s hand. (John 10).
But it is Jesus who shows us exactly how faithful God is. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” “I and the Father are one.” As if to say, “What you see me doing… you see God doing.” We have many accounts of God being faithful, just as this Psalm says he is. Jesus is God being faithful. He is found among the poor, and the oppressed. Even his own disciples were working class people and despised people. He gives the blind sight, and even heals the sick people who were outcast. He feeds hungry people on the green grass slopes of the mountains around the Sea of Galilee. Jesus Christ was faithful just as God is faithful. He loves the least, the last, and the worst. God’s faithfulness is shown to us most clearly in the life of Jesus, our Lord.
Jesus Christ shows his trustworthiness to you and me. Paul and the Hymn writer say it. We are the least, the last and the worst. “Chief of sinners!” We are unfaithful; we are untrustworthy; prisoners of our own hearts and minds, and blind to the way that God would lead us. We fail to put our trust in him so very often even when our lives aren't even on the line. We panic over finances, friendships, church property, and so many other earthly things. But Jesus is faithful; He sets prisoners free and gives sight to the blind, just as the Psalmist wrote. He is so faithful; the He doesn't even spare His own life. He is so faithful that He allows himself to be nailed to a cross and suffer the full punishment of our sin. Jesus on the cross is God's billboard of faithfulness. He is so faithful that he hangs on the cross not only for you and me but even those who hate him, deny him, curse him, and say no matter what they will not receive Jesus' forgiveness. This is God's faithfulness. That he forgives those who are his enemies. Just as you and I once were, as is all those who refuse to believe in him.
Life is a faith walk… Jesus Christ the faithful one, has placed your hand in his, right there next to the nail print. No one can snatch you out of His hand. He leads you on your faith walk through all kinds of interesting places. Even though you are blindfolded you can trust in Him to lead you because he is trustworthy. He has proved it through His willingness to die for you, and for your sin, but even more than that, he has proved it by rising again from the dead. Remember Death, the great equalizer; the canceller of plans, faithful Jesus defeated him. He didn’t thwart His plans. Jesus Christ wasn’t a mere mortal man; He was God and Man together, united. He alone is worthy of trust. He is God himself. The psalm begins and ends the same way. “Praise the Lord,” is says. Praise him because of what he has done. Praise him because he is worthy to be praised. Praise him because he alone is worthy of being trusted. Life is a faith walk… Trust Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God, keep your heart and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Mark 7:1-14; 13th Sunday after Pentecost; August 22, 2021;

Mark 7:1-14; 13th Sunday after Pentecost; August 22, 2021;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN;


Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.” And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: (Mark 7:1-14, ESV)

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

Jesus is always being confronted by his enemies. They are always looking for ways to accuse him in public. One of the problems we have in understanding this is that we’ve heard these stories so many times we see the title Pharisee and we automatically think “bad guy.” They weren’t the bad guys of the time. They were the good guys. In fact, they were highly respected. The name Pharisee means to be set apart. They were considered folks who lived nearly a perfect life. That’s why we get Mark’s explanation:

For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.

Actually, you could translate that part about them coming from the market, “they do not eat unless they wash themselves. They considered themselves so close pure and perfect that if they came into contact with regular folks, they had to wash the uncleanness off. Now we see this as arrogance. But back then parents wanted their sons to grow up to be Pharisees. People looked at them and thought, “They are really living the way God wants people to live.”

They were only doing what comes naturally to people. God gives his law, and we have two possible reactions. First, when we see the demands of God, we realize that we can’t keep it. We see our utter hopelessness. If we don’t hear about God’s grace found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we fall into despair. If we never hear the Good News about Jesus coming to keep the law for us, we don’t have anywhere to turn when the law does its full work. There are mountains of people who have been so hurt by law preaching without the Gospel. They are angry with the church over what they think are its demands of perfection. They look at us as hypocrites because they know that no one can keep the demands of the law, and we come across as Pharisees.

The other reaction to the law is that we look at the law and think that we are doing pretty well. This I fear is the most common reaction among us. It is this reaction to the law that pushes us very close to the Pharisees. How often when you hear your preacher talk about the sins of society do you think to yourself, “at least I’m not doing that!” Or “I can’t believe they do that sin.” Dear people of God, it doesn’t matter what sin I speak of, you and I are guilty of it. Jesus always pushes God’s law to our breaking point. He sets the bar so high that no one can reach it. He does this not to push us to despair but to push us to Him as our Savior. It is only in seeing that we are “poor miserable sinners” who “sin in thought word and deed, by what we have done and left undone” that we can see our total need for His work on the cross for us. His death as paying the debt for our sin that we can’t pay. His life lived for us because we cannot live it. The Pharisees had a way around God’s demands in the law. They thought they were protecting God’s laws with extra rules and regulations. They thought they were building a hedge. But instead, what they were really doing was making God’s law manageable. It fits Jesus’ example very well. God says, “Honor your father and mother.” The Pharisees allowed a way for you to do that and NOT support them in their old age.

“Sorry Pop, I’ve set aside my money for God. I can’t give it to you.” It’s the same thing. “What do you think God thinks of your living together?” “Well Pastor, I think God would want me to be happy.” “I can’t afford to live alone; I’m sure God would want me to be a good manager of my money.” “God forbids divorce.” “But Pastor, God knows what pain I’m in because my spouse doesn’t understand me anymore.” It’s the same thing the Pharisees were doing, and Jesus calls them on it. And Jesus calls you and me on it, too. We make deals with God about our sin. We pretend that we have the exception to the rule because of our situation.


• “I can skip church, because I go a lot more than most.”
• “It’s not really wrong if I say that little lie as long as no one is hurt.”
• “I can tell the rumor about my friend as long as in the long run they get the help they need.”
• “I don’t have time for bible class, I only get so much time off for enjoying the weekend.” “I’m not really cheating. I’d learn the material; I just ran out of time.”
• “It’s not really cheating to get the advantage over my competitor by lying about what I can do, after all I have employees to pay.”

You see, our sinful nature is the same as those Pharisees. We do the very same things as they did. We think we are better than others so God will grant us exceptions. We think we keep the law good enough for God to be good to us. And then Jesus words sting us.

“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “ ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me;”

A good practice to help you understand God’s law correctly is this. If your first reaction to hearing God’s law is to think of someone else who doesn’t keep it, turn the law back upon yourself. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Instead of pointing your finger at those who miss worship most Sundays; think about how you wanted to stay in bed this morning; or how your mind wanders during the sermon; or how you were distracted from Jesus because the tune of that hymn was just too hard to sing. The key here in this passage is the washing. Our problem, our sin, is that we try to wash ourselves. That’s what the Pharisees did. They washed themselves, they justified themselves by making exceptions to the rules and making rules to tone down the law.

[If you want a very clear example of this, today think of the Purpose Driven Life. God has a purpose for your life. If you live in that purpose, you can please God. This idea completely sets aside that fact that you can’t please God with anything you do, unless! You are “in Christ.” Unless you have the forgiveness of sin won by Christ on the cross. That forgiveness washes away this sin of all we do, leaving only good.]

Maybe you missed it in the Epistle reading for today. Most often we hear the “Wives, submit to your own husbands” part and we are so offended that we don’t hear what Paul is really saying. He tells the ideal for marriage; a wife submitting to her husband who does everything purely for her benefit. We get hung up on the words about marriage and miss the words about Christ. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.

He finishes it off with these words:
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

When we “submit” to Christ it doesn’t have anything to do with our doing anything. To submit to Christ is to allow Him to wash us clean. To submit to Christ is to see our sin as a spot and stain that we cannot remove. No elbow grease to apply. No extra laws to keep. No exceptions to the rules we can follow. Just Jesus cleansing us, washing us, with water and the Word. Just Jesus shedding his blood on the cross for the forgiveness of our sin. Just Jesus presenting us before God clean through His scrubbing, through His perfect life, perfect death and perfect resurrection. Just Jesus making us clean and free from the sin stain.

That is worship for us. Gathering together and submitting to Christ as His bride, to be washed by water and His Word; to be set free from our sin so that we can serve Him in everything that we do. That’s what makes worship what God wants it to be instead of the commandments of men. That’s what makes our hearts “close” to Christ instead of far away. We have a great many traditions in this church. We, as sinful human beings, are always tempted to use traditions to find a way to wash ourselves. You have my permission to ask and question everything we do here in this church. The question you should ask is this: Does this thing that we do point to Jesus Christ crucified, dead and buried and raised again for the forgiveness of my sin? Does this tradition point to Jesus washing us clean, and giving himself for us? Does this thing teach me of God’s love for me in Jesus, life, death and resurrection? If the answer is no, we should stop. If the answer is yes, we can rejoice in the gift we’ve been given.

There’s the font, there’s water in there to remind you of Christ your bridegroom washing you clean from your sin through His blood on the cross. There’s the Word that strikes you in your ears and in your heart; the law that softens you by convicting you of your sin; and the Good News of Jesus your Savior taking the curse of sin for you that gives you the joy of being clean. There’s the body and blood of Christ, right from the cross, poured into you to wash you from the inside out. None of these are traditions of men. These are the promises of God for the forgiveness of your sin. Amen.

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

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Genesis 9:8-17; The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost; July 25, 2021;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him, “Behold, I establish my covenant with you and your offspring after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the livestock, and every beast of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark; it is for every beast of the earth. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of the flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.” And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the cloud, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh. And the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.” God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.”” (Genesis 9:8–17, ESV)

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

Today, I'm going to tell you a story. By a story I don't mean something that is fiction. This story is absolutely true and happened exactly as the Bible tells it. This is the story of the great flood that destroyed all the Earth except for the seven members of Noah's family that were safely tucked inside the ark. One of the things I want you to understand from this story is that it is not a cute children's tale. Instead, it is a story of God's anger and wrath over sin. For us it's tainted by children's pictures of cute animals going into the ark two by two. When we see it that way, we miss the depth of God's anger and his righteous judgment over sin.

It needs to be understood, the world was completely corrupt. The Bible says The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Genesis 6:5, ESV)

It says that God was "grieved" that he had made man. At this point, I think you and I should shudder. For the people that covered the earth at that time were really no different than what we are. They were people living their lives according to their own thoughts and desires. This is indeed what we so often do. Here I want you to think about Psalm 51:

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:3–5, ESV) And although we find it hard to believe, God was completely justified, "blameless in his judgment." As we have talked about so many times all sin comes from our inability to live in a perfect relationship with God. The inability to love God with our whole heart our whole soul and our whole mind.

And yet, God is always gracious. In the midst of the promised destruction God saves Noah and his family. The Bible says Noah was a "righteous man and walked with God". That doesn't mean the Noah did not sin. It simply means that his outward character was completely different from those surrounding him. Noah was publicly known to worship Yahweh. God commanded Noah to build an ark. In the ark God would save two of every creature of the Earth. Every animal that had the breath of life in it. Noah faithfully obeyed God. He built the ark. According to God's command the ark was to be 450 feet long 75 feet wide and 45 feet high. If you go the whole length of our property along Sumner Avenue, and go from the street to the first window here in the church, and twice as high as the church from the basement floor to the peek of the roof, that's the size of the ark. Rather than looking like a boat, the ark was probably more like a big box with the slanted roof and an open slot for air and light all around the top. In it God would save Noah and his family and every "kind" of animal that lived on the earth. And when all were inside God sealed the door and sent the flood to the earth. It was a disaster. It rained for 40 days and 40 nights. The water came from everywhere. It covered the whole earth to 15 feet over the highest mountain. The terror of our spring tornado is nothing compared to the terror of those people on whose God judgment fell. And make no mistake it was God's judgment.

[God] blotted out every living thing that was on the face of the ground, man and animals and creeping things and birds of the heavens. They were blotted out from the earth. Only Noah was left, and those who were with him in the ark.” (Genesis 7:23, ESV)

When the judgment was over, and the land was able to sustain life again, Noah and his family and all the animals came out of the ark. Then standing there on Mount Ararat in the aftermath of God's judgment over sin, God made a promise. Never again would all creatures be cut off by a flood over the whole Earth. And as a reminder God set against the darkness of the clouds the bright colors of the rainbow. It was a sign, not to the people, but a reminder to God himself that he would never again destroy the earth in such a way. When you see a rainbow, instead of thinking about Judy Garland, leprechauns and gay pride parades, you should fear and love God for he is gracious and merciful slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. It is the visible sign of his grace and mercy. Listen to Martin Luther:

Our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word, so that men, reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful. Thus after the Flood the rainbow appeared in order to serve as a convincing proof that in the future God would not give vent to His wrath against the world by a similar punishment…To us in the New Testament, Baptism and the Eucharist have been given as visible signs of grace, so that we might firmly believe that our sins have been forgiven through Christ’s suffering and that we have been redeemed by His death. (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 1:248. This connection between the rainbow-sign and the sacramental signs of baptism and Eucharist is common in Luther: LW 2:144; 20:67–8; 35:86; 36:174; 37:135; and 54:56.)

The rainbow is God's visible sign that he will not destroy the earth with water again. It stretches from horizon to horizon. It reaches up into the menacing clouds as a reminder to God and us of God's far-reaching mercy.

So also, God gives us the sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion as visible signs of the forgiveness of sins that Jesus Christ won on the cross for us. But unlike the rainbow these are not just signs. Through these gifts, these visible gifts, God brings to us what Jesus Christ did for us. When we see our sin and are well aware of the just punishment for our sin, that is eternal death, we are comforted by the visible signs of the Sacraments. Just like Noah and his family were comforted by the visible sign of the rainbow. The sacraments we have are also God's promises to us. Baptism is the flood that drowns our old sinful nature and cleanses us from sin. The whole earth was cleansed by water from sin. In Baptism God makes promises to us individually. All that Jesus did his life, death, and resurrection are ours. So also, we have the visible elements of bread and wine in Holy Communion that feeds us during our life journey, just as Noah fed the animals on the ark, during their journey. Sacraments are our pointers back to Jesus Christ and all that he is done for us. The rainbow was Noah and his family's pointer forward to God's grace in Jesus Christ. God promised not to punish the world in this way for its sin. Instead, God himself would come in human flesh and bear the whole world's sin on the cross.

The Bible does speak of a second worldwide catastrophe at the end of history. Jesus himself says that this is "coming soon". All will be surprised at the coming "just as it was in the days of Noah" (Luke 17:26). And in fact, in the medieval days of the church, there was a common image of Christ the stern judge enthroned upon a rainbow. It was a reminder that he would come again to judge the whole world, the living and the dead. But because of God's gracious promises in Jesus Christ, shown to us in the sacraments, and the image of the rainbow, we have God as our gracious Lord. Because Jesus has indeed taken our sin to the cross and suffered the punishment for all of that. Te need not fear the judgment at the end of time. For Jesus is our judge, but he is also and more importantly our Savior. Again, listen to Luther:

“Therefore we who come to Christ want to have him as a gracious Lord. The rainbow on which he sits enthroned does not terrify me; it appears for my salvation. We do not look upon him as a judge. He will call for us. He will not reject us.” (Luther’s Works (American Edition) 23:61)

Amen.

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

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Matthew 6:24-34; Eighth Sunday after the Pentecost, July 18, 2021;

Matthew 6:24-34; Eighth Sunday after the Pentecost, July 18, 2021;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” (Matthew 6:24-34 ESV)

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

“Don’t Worry Be Happy” that’s a song isn’t it… a song from the 70’s? It sounds a lot like what Jesus is saying here doesn’t it?

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Here is a little song I wrote
You might want to sing it note for note
Don't worry be happy
In every life we have some trouble
When you worry you make it double
Don't worry, be happy......
(Don't Worry, Be Happy, From the Movie "Cocktails", Performed by Bobby McFerrin)

I think it is good advice, don’t you? Don’t worry… be happy… but it’s easier said than done. There’s so much to worry about; too much moisture, or not enough; too much wind, or not enough; too many visitors, not enough workers, high grocery prices, should I drive to Duluth or buy them here; health care costs through the ceiling; will my daughter be alright as she begins a life on her own?; what am I going to do with the kids the rest of the summer; family feuds; global warming; global pandemic (or not?); natural and unnatural disasters; presidential elections; illegal immigration; uncooperative neighbors; new neighbors; unwanted new residents; old friends leaving / dying; loss of independence; too much change in the church; not enough change in the church; on and on it goes… it’s enough to give you an ulcer. What does Jesus think he’s saying anyway? Life is difficult. It’s a struggle to get the stuff we need… and getting harder. How can he say, “Don’t worry?”

Well, it’s a good question to ask. What is Jesus trying to say here exactly? And more specifically what is he saying to you and me? Well… to really understand what he’s saying we have to take off our shoes, put on our sandals, and sit down on the dusty ground of first century Palestine. We have to put ourselves in the crowd that was listening to Jesus. This might be harder than you think. Especially for people who are as wealthy as we are. Yep, I said wealthy. Oh, I know, we don’t think of ourselves as wealthy. We seem to struggle every day for the stuff we need (or think we need). But the majority of the folks gathered around Jesus didn’t have nearly what we have. They lived day to day, hand to mouth. To put it in perspective I heard it this way.

If you have more than one pair of shoes, if you decide what you are going to eat each day, you are wealthy, by the world’s standards. (Unknown)

In fact, most of us have never been there, most of us have never been poor by that definition. But these are the people Jesus is speaking to. So, when Jesus says “don’t worry about what you will eat or drink or wear” he’s talking to people who really don’t know where their next meal is going to come from. He’s talking to people who scratch every day just to put food on the table. Obesity isn’t a problem for them, like it is for us, starvation is a daily possibility. And Jesus tells them not to worry…

You know, one problem I have is that I get too serious about things. It’s a shortcoming I have. I tell a joke, and nobody laughs because they don’t expect it. We look at Jesus that way, too. But one of his greatest teaching tools is humor. I think we miss this about Jesus. And here’s a good example.

Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns… Picture in your mind what Jesus is saying. Little wild birds, driving their little bitty tractors through the fields planting seed… little bird sized combines with little birdie satellite dishes for XM radio… and perched high in the treetops, little bird grain silos full of grain stored up for the winter. No, it doesn’t happen, does it. The birds don’t do any of that. They are provided all that they need from God. They pluck around on the ground and pick up the seed that are dropped from the combine. They search through the tall grass for the early worm.

and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Or how about those flowers.
Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin,

Imagine the picture of flowers, sitting row upon row in the fashion sweat shop, Easter lilies, pansies, and chrysanthemums, bent over row upon row of sewing machines. Roses pushing their high fashion clothing racks through the streets of New York. No, that doesn’t happen. God provides what they need… and more beautiful than the richest cloths of Hollywood.

Jesus wants you to know that you are of far more worth than flowers or birds. That’s what he’s telling the folks around him. That’s what he’s telling you. He takes care of all of their needs. He takes care of your needs too. In our sinful nature, the problem is, we don’t recognize real need. We think we need cable television, computers and cell phones. We think we need 16 pairs of shoes and 99 kinds of breakfast cereal. In fact, if we really looked at our lives and our possessions carefully, we’d see very clearly that we have much more than we need. It is only selfishness that keeps it in our possession. We make excuses for not sharing it, like telling ourselves things like “I’d help them, but they’ll just drink it away” or “I helped them once but they didn’t use it properly” or “God helps those who help themselves.” “I need to save for a rainy day.” We count success, both personal and in the church by the size of the savings account. Money is simply a resource he gives his people and the church to be used in service to our neighbors and to serve the message of Jesus' love and forgiveness for all. Jesus gives fair warning.

You cannot serve God and money.

Notice he doesn’t say “don’t” serve God and money. He says you can’t do it. When our eyes are on our bank account they are not on Jesus. When our eyes are on Jesus, we won’t worry about the bank account.

Jesus also gives the solution.

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

But be careful! Jesus isn’t telling you what to do. He’s telling you to look for what he is doing. The problem is language here. It’s that phrase “Kingdom of God” that throws us a curve. When we hear kingdom, we think of territory or government. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about at all. St. Matthew in his Gospel tells us what the Kingdom of God is.

And [Jesus] went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. (Matthew 4:23 ESV) And Jesus went throughout all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction. (Matthew 9:35 ESV) When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. (Matthew 11:1 ESV)

Jesus is God, the King, come to fix the world, to bring the Kingdom of God. Jesus is God the king come to remove the effects of sin in his world. Jesus, the King, comes through the preaching and teaching of his Word.

Jesus doesn’t help those who help themselves; Jesus helps those who are helpless. Given the choice to serve God or money (because we can’t do both) our sinful nature would pick money every time. We hoard, covet, cheat and steal for it. Our selfishness runs too deep for us to change. In fact, whenever we worry, we assume the power of the King and try to take it into our own hands.

But look for the Kingdom of God. Jesus, the King, comes. Jesus, the King, removes sin’s effects by taking the punishment for our selfishness to the cross. The King does what Kings are supposed to do. He takes care of the needs of his people. He starts with our greatest need, the need for forgiveness. He takes our worries into his hands and takes them to the cross. Jesus’ blood dripping from the cross washes away the sinful stench of selfishness through the washing of regeneration (Titus 3:5) in the water and the word in Holy Baptism. Jesus’ broken body bears the burden of our serving the wrong master, money. He puts forgiveness right into us with his Holy Supper. Jesus sweetly speaks forgiveness into our ears and our hearts with his Word. He reminds us that we are free from the money master. We are free not to worry about our needs because God, the King, Jesus Christ, our Savior, has them all under his control. We are free to serve the needs of others. We are free to look at the wealth that God has given us and use it in service to other people, even (and especially) people who don’t deserve it. We are free to think about what God has given us as gifts for the help of other people (by the way, that includes our own families). We are free from worrying about ourselves because Jesus has us in hand. Listen to those wonderful words from the Prophet Isaiah we heard a moment ago.

Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. (Isaiah 49:15-16a ESV)

That’s not just an idle reference. Isaiah is talking about how slaves were tattooed with their master’s names on the palms of their hands. This was done so the slaves would remember who they were working for. Jesus engraves your name on the palms of his hands. He serves you with his life, death and resurrection. Everything he did he did for you. He will never forget you. Even death will not separate you from him. If you are looking for the Kingdom of God, look no further than Jesus doing what he does for you. Amen.

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