Sunday, November 17, 2019

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2019;

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; The 23rd Sunday after Pentecost; November 17, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s bread without paying for it, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you. It was not because we do not have that right, but to give you in ourselves an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)
(from an sermon by Rev. Rick Marrs)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Our God is a working God. In fact, it's what the Bible is all about. God is at work from the beginning, Genesis 1 to Revelation 21. He creates the world and everything in it by the word. Trees, flowers, birds, the stars of the heavens, the fish in the sea, the planets and the asteroids whizzing about space. And people. He created Adam and Eve, our first parents, and breathed into them the breath of life. And he placed them in the paradise of the garden of Eden which he created for them. Human beings are God's work. And after six days he took a Sabbath rest.
But the paradise of Adam and Eve may not be exactly what you're thinking of when you hear the word paradise. For you and me paradise is soaking up the sun in a Hawaiian beach cabana. The waiter walks through the sand bringing us a Blue Hawaii or one of those rum drinks with a little umbrella. In the beach hotel, the employees are scuttering around to take care of our smallest wants. Our vision of paradise is people working for us. But in Genesis the first thing God does is different:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:15, ESV)
Adam and Eve don't fall into sin until Genesis 3. In Genesis 2 God puts them to work. We think, maybe you've even been told, that work is the result of sin. So, the picture in your mind of paradise is a Hawaiian vacation. But our working God has given us work to do, as a gift. He did not create human beings to the idle-ly lazing around but tending the universe that he created for us. God gave Adam and Eve, and you and me, work to do, and it was good.
But Adam and Eve were not content to live and work in the garden. They wanted the one thing that wasn't theirs to have. They denied their relationship with God by eating the lies of Satan and the fruit that God told them to avoid. They wanted to be their own gods. They broke their perfect relationship with God and fell into rebellion. So, God ejected them from the garden. And he sent them out to work. This work was not the same as before:
“cursed is the ground because of you … thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you … 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 3:17ff)
Now work is difficult and dangerous. The cursed creation doesn't respond to human work the way that it should. The work remains. But work, in and of itself, is still a good gift of God. God uses it to provide for all our needs. God gives you your daily work to do. It is a good gift from him to provide for you and your family. But not only that, your work is given to you to do good for the people that you serve. Teachers are there to serve their students and parents. Maintenance workers maintain buildings for the sake of those who live and work in them. Garbage collectors haul away the garbage so that people can live and work in clean places. Stay-at-home moms serve their children by taking care of them. Car salesmen and auto mechanics work so people can have transportation so that they can get to work. Pastors teach you God's word so that you can work freed from the guilt of your sin. People in grocery stores work so we can have food. Grown children take care of their elderly parents. Elderly and shut in folks have opportunity to pray for the work of others. These are the things we been given to do. They are our vocation. Not our vacation. Our vocation is the work that God gives us to do to serve one another in the places that he has given us to serve. And I'm not just talking about are paid jobs either. We are given to serve one another as parent, child, friend, neighbor, and good citizen. All these things have their associated tasks and work. When God calls us to serve our neighbors in these ways, we are the "masks of God, behind which He wants to remain concealed and do all things.[1]" it's all connected to exactly what St. Paul writes:
If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. As for you, brothers, do not grow weary in doing good.” (2 Thessalonians 3:6–13, ESV)
We see examples of hard workers in the Bible, too. Noah built the ark to save the living creatures from the flood. Abraham had huge flocks and herds. Moses was a Shepherd before he shepherded God's people out of slavery in Egypt. Paul was a tent maker. In our text here he talks about making his own living that way. And Jesus, our Savior, was a carpenter. Hard work, difficult work, has been around and promoted by God since Adam and Eve fell into sin.
But Jesus didn't come to give us an example of how to work hard. His vocation was so much greater than that. Jesus is the word made flesh, the very same word through which God made the world. He is the very word of God that came to restore human beings and all creation to a right relationship with God. His life, death, and resurrection are the work, the vocation, he came to do. Jesus Christ serves sinners. He serves us sinners by taking the punishment we deserve for being lazy and idle. He us serves sinners by removing the need for us to earn our salvation with our good works. We are saved by the gift of faith in all the Jesus Christ has done for us. We do not have to do good works for ourselves. Jesus has done all the good works we need. Now, we can serve our neighbors. We don't do good works focused on God's reaction. We do good works focused on our neighbors needs.
Our God is a working God who is blessed us with work to do. In response to God's saving work for us in Jesus Christ, we are privileged to work in the world for the sake of our neighbors. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 14: Selected Psalms III. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 14, p. 114). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Exodus 3:1-15; 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; November 10, 2019;

Exodus 3:1-15; 22nd Sunday after Pentecost; November 10, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, the priest of Midian, and he led his flock to the west side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. And the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” And he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. Then the LORD said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the place of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. And now, behold, the cry of the people of Israel has come to me, and I have also seen the oppression with which the Egyptians oppress them. Come, I will send you to Pharaoh that you may bring my people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt.” But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” He said, “But I will be with you, and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God on this mountain.” Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel: ‘The LORD, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you.’ This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.” (Exodus 3:1–15, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Moses was doing what he always did, watching sheep for his father-in-law. When the sight caught his eye. A flaming bush, that wasn’t consumed by the fire, up on the mountain. He went to see what it was about. “The Angel of YHWH appeared to him.” But this was no ordinary messenger. It was YHWH himself in the bush. God present with him at that very time in that very place. “Moses, Moses!” called YHWH. “You are in the presence of God. Take off your sandals it is holy ground, for wherever I AM present, it is holy ground. I have seen the affliction of my people in Egypt. And I have come down to rescue them, to be present with them and deliver them from Egypt.” God called Moses to go to Pharaoh. Moses was the reluctant prophet. “Who am I, that I should do this?” YHWH answered, “But, there is no need to fear, I will be present with you the whole time. When you deliver the people, you will bring them into my presence here at this mountain. When you have accomplished that, it will be a sign to you.” “But”, Moses answered, “when I say the God of your fathers has sent me, they will want to know your name.” And God answered. “I AM WHO I AM. Say to the people of Israel: I AM has sent me to you.”
I AM WHO I AM. It seems simple enough. But there’s more to it than God saying that he exists.
אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר אֶֽהְיֶ֑ה[1]
“ehyeh ashar ehyeh”
I am who I am. It is a simple translation. But there’s more to it than that. “I am, I exist, I will be”. All of these contained in the language that Moses used to pen these important words of God, but most importantly, in this context, “I will be present as I am present”. The Angel of YHWH is present in the burning bush. God says his presence makes holy ground. He says he has come down to be present to rescue his people. And that he will be present with Moses the whole time. From Jeremiah:
“Am I a God at hand, declares the LORD, and not a God far away?” (Jeremiah 23:23, ESV)
God “at hand”, “near”, “present”. His name is his promise. His promised presence. God, YHWH, present with his people in their deliverance from slavery. And the account goes on; YHWH present with Moses and Aaron as they confront Pharaoh. YHWH present over and above Satan’s presence with Pharaoh’s magicians. YHWH terrifyingly present in the nine plagues, and ultimately in the 10th plague and the Passover where every firstborn who was not protected by the blood of the Lamb on the doorpost was killed by YHWH. YHWH present in the pillar of fire and cloud that led the people through the wilderness. YHWH present as the waters of the Red Sea covered the soldiers of Egypt. YHWH present when they crossed the Jordan River into the promised land. YHWH present when the walls of Jericho fell. YHWH present when they occupied the land. When the children of Israel looked back on the Exodus, they saw the defining moment of God’s name, YHWH. They saw YHWH present with them just as he promised. God says אֶֽהְיֶ֖ה (ehyaw) “I AM present”, his name. The people call him YHWH, “He is present”. When God’s people look for salvation, they look for it through his presence.
On a quiet night in Bethlehem, in a stable, YHWH is present again. Emmanuel is born. Emmanuel means “God with us.”
“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (which means, God with us).” (Matthew 1:23, ESV)
[Mary] will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. (Matthew 1:21, ESV)
The name Jesus means “YHWH saves”, Immanuel saves from sin by being present with us. YHWH present in the person of Jesus Christ. YHWH present as Jesus confounds the priests in the temple at 12 years of age. YHWH present as Jesus is baptized in the Jordan river by John. YHWH present in all his miracles. YHWH present as he stands condemned before Pilate. YHWH present as he allows nails to be spiked through his hands and feet. YHWH present as he dies on the cross, that bloody and brutal death. YHWH present, dead in the tomb. YHWH present on the first Easter, when he rises from death to life. This is YHWH present for you. As Luther said, the most important words in all of scripture are “for you”. YHWH is present for you, to save you from your sin.
And your story goes on. YHWH is present with you in your Baptism. In Holy Baptism, God, YHWH puts his name on you. Where God’s name is all his promises are present. In that blessed flood, that water mixed with the name of God, he promises to be with you always. In baptism you are adopted into God’s family. Joined with him. YHWH is forever present with you.
For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:27–29, ESV)
It is just as Jesus said,
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20, ESV)
And there is more. In his Holy Supper he is present for your forgiveness, also. Jesus Christ, YHWH himself, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins. There is no way to be closer to Jesus than to open your mouth and take in what he offers, his body and blood and forgiveness of sins.
Every time we hear his word read to you, or open the Scriptures for yourself and read, YHWH is with you. Especially when you read about Jesus and his promised presence.
In these ways specifically, God is working to comfort and encourage you. Just as he says:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:5b–6, ESV)
So, when you face loneliness, illness or death:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When you struggle with doubt, trouble, or sharing your faith with a friend:
He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
Your God, YHWH, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who appeared to Moses in the burning bush, to rescue his people from slavery in Egypt, the God who appeared in the flesh in Jesus Christ, who hung on the cross for your sins, and defeated your death with his resurrection, that God, YHWH is with you always. He has come down to you and is present with you forever. Amen.
The Peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: with Westminster Hebrew Morphology. (2001). (electronic ed., Ex 3:14). Stuttgart; Glenside PA: German Bible Society; Westminster Seminary.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Matthew 5:1-12; All Saints Day; November 3, 2019
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:1-12, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
One of the most difficult things in preaching is to use a very familiar text. First of all, a familiar text is likely to float right by your ears without being heard. “Oh, I know this one. I’ve heard it before.” We say. Our brains turn off, “there is nothing new here, nothing I need to know about this text, and I’ve heard it all before.” It can be a real problem, as far a preaching is concerned. Secondly, since we’ve heard the text so much, since we’ve heard it preached so many times, we “know” what it’s all about. We’ve already heard what this one means. I remember what Pastor so-and-so said about it. But, despite these ‘difficulties’ I’ve decided to preach on this text anyway. So, let’s all put away our preconceived notions about these Beatitudes. Let’s forget that we’ve heard lots of sermons on what Jesus said here. Try to find something new, together…
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them
Let’s picture this crowd, that Matthew describes to us. A few verses earlier he said,
So, his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. (Matthew 4:24, ESV)
These are the people that are all around in the crowd. Some have traveled days to reach this very spot, just to catch a glimpse of the man who might heal them. Over there is a crippled man. He walks with a stick because each step causes him great pain. Over there is a woman with sores on her skin. The kind that never stop itching, never stop getting infected. Gathered on the outskirts of the group, avoided by everyone are the Lepers, close enough to hear and see, and not far enough for the crowd. And there are the poor; children whose daily meal consists of a dry crusty piece of bread and a small portion of water. It is a very great crowd… they’re noisy, calling out to Jesus for help, pleading with those around them to take them to him. You can’t escape the smell of sweat, dirt, and sickness. But they have all come; they have come because they have no where else to turn. They are in desperate need, alone and outcast, looking to Jesus for hope.
And what if you had come, too. What if you and made a day’s journey… or was it two. The time has all blended together, and you can’t rightly remember. The crowds have pressed in on you and carried you along. So, you couldn’t have gotten away, even if you wanted to. But you didn’t want to leave, because you too, have a need. It could be an illness that is bearing down on you, making life unbearable? … Taking away your freedom, your independence? … Causing you pain that you don’t understand? Maybe it’s wondering if you are really going to survive the economy. Will there be enough money to make a living? Will my family survive? Doubts and fears of what will happen to them, if you can’t provide. Or you are suffering over death. Pain that sears up inside you as you remember how it felt to be next to that loved one who is now gone… angry that you must go on alone. Or you may be haunted by a sickening, painful feeling that won’t leave you alone. A remembrance of something dreadful, pain that you caused someone else or actions that shattered a friendship.
What ever you need, the feelings eat away at your sleep and they interrupt your daylight. You try to forget, but you can’t. And that is why you are here standing before Jesus, one of many amid the crowd, looking to him in the hope, that He can do something about your pain.
Every eye is on Jesus, who has positioned himself to be seen. Every ear is open as silence falls over the crowd, waiting for his words to come. You watch him as his eyes drift from person to person, as he lovingly inspects them. The silence is deafening, and the anticipation grows… finally Jesus speaks:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, ESV)
There is a long pause, as the words float through the crowd, placing themselves in each ear, and making their home in every mind. “Blessed… happy…. fortunate are those who know that they have no where to turn.” The words couldn’t have been better chosen. The crowd, and you, know instantly that Jesus is talking about you… and he has said that the kingdom of heaven belongs to you. You look around you, especially at the man who is leaning on his stick. His illness makes you feel like moving away, and yet Jesus words echo in your mind. “The kingdom of heaven is yours.” You wonder how it can possibly be… and Jesus continues.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, ESV)
Mourning you understand. The emptiness left by death… the alone-ness… the isolation. You have felt it many times as you gathered around the body of a loved one who has died. You know exactly how it feels. Death separates. And that’s what mourning is, separation. And yet Jesus says, you are blessed even though you mourn, because you will be comforted. As Jesus continues you realize that he is speaking as if something is now different than it has been before. … The meek inherit… righteousness is honored… people receive mercy…. and people who are pure in heart see God. These words don’t describe the world as you have known it. You have seen meek people, and they don’t inherit anything but dirt, righteousness is not honored, and mercy is seldom seen. Jesus must be speaking of a new kind of Kingdom. He is talking about a Kingdom of God. And, even more than that, he is speaking as if it is already here, right now... As if he is bringing it.
As the crowd dissipates, as everyone trails home, you wonder about all that you have heard. Especially how the Kingdom of God can be here, how all the things that Jesus said could be true, and yet, there is still insult, and evil, even against the people of God.  Jesus had even backed up his words with actions. He went through the crowd and they had seen him heal; and heard him speak. And yet even as Jesus brought comfort, mercy and peace, there still had to be more. The suffering remains, but “great is your reward.”
Still, today we ponder the same realities as the crowd that stood before Jesus that day. We come to him, poor in spirit, with no where to turn. Our sins always before us, ever causing division between us, ever causing unintended pain. We plead to him, “Create in me a clean heart!” And we mourn. Look at the list of those who have gone before us… he ever growing list of the saints. The separation, the loneliness, and the pain caused by our sins and theirs. And the persecutions… we also see them. Today also think about the Persecuted Church. Our hearts and prayers go out on behalf of those who are suffering directly for their faith. More Christians have died for their faith in the last decade than the first 19 centuries of the church. Still, two thousand years later, and all that Jesus spoke about is still true, and yet he calls us blessed. At times it seems as if his death meant nothing at all.
But it is his death and resurrection that mean everything. Especially for us. Jesus did in fact bring with him the kingdom of God. He rules over it completely. And he rules over it for us. Especially for us, who are poor in spirit, especially when we realize that we have no where else to turn.
Because of his death, when we turn to him with our sins. And then he says, “I forgive you. I will cast your sins into the sea of forgetfulness and remember them no more. If I have forgotten them, they need not trouble you any more!” When we turn to him in our sickness, he says, “I love you. My death and resurrection mean that even as your illness drags you toward your death, I have taken away its victory. I have claimed you. You will not be given more than you can bear.” And when we turn to him in grief, he says, “Why do you seek the living among the dead! I’m alive. These my children will live again. Their separation from you will not last much longer. I am coming again soon. We will all be together again.” And when we cry out to him for those who suffer because they will not deny him, he says, “This evil will not stand long. I am coming soon!”
“Blessed are you.” Jesus says. “Because the Kingdom of God is yours. I have assured it, with my life. I have shown it to you by healing the sick, freeing the captives, and raising the dead. I have promised all this to you, and I seal my promise in my very own blood, given and shed for your forgiveness.”
It was on that hillside, in those words so familiar to us, that Jesus tells us what the kingdom of God is like. It was there that he told us that it had indeed come to us. And it was there that he pointed ahead to the time when he would come again and bring it in its fullest sense, forever.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Romans 3:19-28; Reformation, October 27, 2019;

Romans 3:19-28; Reformation, October 27, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. 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. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. (Ro 3:19-28, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
We don’t see it very much these days…  It really seems to be a picture from the past… I mean this picture of a young man (like Martin Luther) struggling to be good enough so that God won’t send him to hell.  In fact, we all may look at that picture and think that it’s rather old fashioned.  We may ask ourselves why anyone would ever be afraid of such a thing.   Certainly, few of us have had any fear about that kind of thing.  We are an enlightened mature society.  Religion is about love.  If it’s about god at all it’s a god whose great love for people would never allow him to send anyone to punishment forever.  It is often expressed in phrases like this: “The god I know would never punish people that way.”  Or “How can a loving god deal out eternal punishment?”
I mean, if hell isn’t a reality for people then the question of being good enough to avoid it is really a non-issue.  Isn’t it?  It all kind of makes the Reformation that began with the struggle of a young German monk over sin and hell, a mute point. After all Luther’s struggle was against God, wasn’t it?  He looked at himself and saw an imperfect person who didn’t “love God with his whole heart and soul and mind.”  He looked at God and saw a judge who demanded perfection, not just in the way things were done, but in the motive and the thought too!  His thorough study of scripture led him to the unmistakable conclusion that he was hell bound.  That was then, this is now. The whole fear-of-hell thing seems like a leftover from a previous time when people thought differently. 
The way it is now, the way we prefer to look at the world, and life, and God is completely different.  We’ve made up a god of our own that doesn’t match with what the Bible tells us.  Our new god is a doting grandfather that gives us whatever we need and want, and he simply ignores our shortcomings and failures.  It could even be said that he doesn’t even care that people don’t believe in him or even out and out reject him.  “They’re only human,” He coos, “and nobody is perfect.”  This god looks lovingly at struggling humanity and with a twinkle in his eye says, “They try so hard… that’ll be good enough.”  It’s the picture of god giving an “A+” for effort, regardless of the results and regardless of the motives that lie behind the actions.  He gives people a purpose in their lives and rewards them as long as we live in that purpose.
It’s no wonder people don’t fear the consequences of their sin anymore.  The god we’ve invented acts and sounds just like one of us.  He sweeps sin under the carpet just like we like to do.  That’s just the way we live, as if sin wasn’t a problem, sweeping it quietly under the carpet.  Letting it stand where we find it.  Just think a moment about these issues since 1973 in just the United States alone we have killed over 61 million helpless children through abortion. It’s a staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies that end in murder.  Or how about this issue that hits closer to home because we all have it in our families.  You know that that 90% of young couples (both Christian and non-Christian) live together before marriage.  They ignore the stats that show those who do have an 80% higher risk of divorce.  God, the true God, speaks clearly about these issues.  Killing human beings at any stage of development is murder.  He says sex outside of marriage is wrong, that means it is wrong for couples to live together before they are married, no matter how good the reasons seem.  Test yourself on these issues:  How many people know you are Pro-Life?  Do you consider unborn children when you stand in the ballot box?  How many young couples have you told that living together before they are married is wrong?  We spend a lot of time and effort saying that God’s will for our lives is whatever we want it to be.  And that God’s standards for living are quite flexible, more like suggestions that can be set aside when they are inconvenient or don’t match up with our “feel good” philosophy of life.
Luther’s struggle was about the difference between God and human beings.  God is holy.  People are not.  God is perfect.  People are not.  God knows everything.  God can investigate the very depth of the human heart.  When Martin looked honestly into his own what he saw there frightened him.  It frightened him because he didn’t find an inner core of good.  He saw an inner core of evil and darkness and hatred of other people and even of God.  And when he realized that God saw that same heart, he knew that he was lost.  With the law comes the knowledge of sin. St. Paul said to him.  It was just like Jesus said, for out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Mt 15:19, ESV) Martin Luther discovered that was accountable to God not just for his outward acts but also for what was in his heart.  God said it also in the Old Testament.  For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sa 16:7, ESV)  
That’s the real problem isn’t it?  It’s what’s in here that we can’t get rid of.  We can only ignore it or pretend it isn’t there.  Or invent a god that doesn’t care about sin, a god of our own making that hides his eyes to what we know is there.  Because the real God, the one we learn about in His Word does care about sin.  That same Word tells us all the truth we already know: For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.  No amount of keeping the law is going to fix what’s in here.  The more we try to do what is right the more we see how we don’t do it perfectly, “with our whole heart.” 
But it is precisely because the true God cares about sin that we are here today.  It is because God really does love human beings beyond our understanding that He doesn’t just sweep sin under the carpet.  He sees what sin does to us, how it tears our relationships apart, how it makes a mess of everything we try to do.  And he knows above all how we are powerless to do anything about it.    For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. That’s what the law makes very plain to us.  But God goes beyond that he also says that we are justified by his grace as a gift…  Well, it would have to be a gift wouldn’t it?  We can’t scrub it clean; we can’t work it out on our own, and we can’t end sin in our hearts by any other way.  We need a righteousness that we don’t have.  Righteousness is exactly what God has.  It is what God is.  In fact, the best definition of righteousness is Jesus.
St. Paul used that unusual word propitiation.  He wrote the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood.  What he is really talking about is a peace offering.  When a wife is angry at her husband, he scrambles to find a florist and shows up at the door with a big batch of flowers.  That’s propitiation.  And Jesus is just that, a perfectly righteous peace offering to God.  Jesus offers himself to God as the object of God’s just anger over sin.  He suffers the punishment that all human beings deserve because of the sin in their hearts.  In Jesus heart, even though he fully human, there wasn’t any of the blackness that is in yours and mine.  He didn’t make excuses for not following God’s law.  Not only did he not sin, he confronted sin everywhere he went.  He called sin, sin and pointed out its consequences.  He didn’t struggle against God’s will for His life, even when it led him to a brutal execution.  You see, everything He did was perfect, and not just in the things he did, but the motives and the thoughts, too!  That’s because Jesus was not just good guy, he was human, but he was also God, perfect and holy… You might say Jesus is the very heart of God’s. 
Now when we compare Jesus heart to ours, we know that what we need is His… 
It’s the most amazing thing… it’s really beyond our understanding… it’s so utterly different than anything our experience can understand…  But Jesus is exactly what God gives to us.  Our sinful prideful mind and heart immediately jump to the conclusion that we must have earned it, somehow.  “I must have done something good!”  But the God’s law is right there to show us that there is nothing we can do.  Its real purpose is to show us our sin, because we will not believe in Jesus, we can’t have true faith, until the law shuts us up, and puts anything we would do out of the picture.  We get this wonderful totally free gift of Jesus righteousness, God’s perfection, by faith.  What Paul means by that is seeing that Jesus righteousness is now yours.  In Paul’s words: we receive the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. 
That’s where that young monk’s struggle ended… in faith.  When Martin Luther saw that the righteousness that he needed was his as God’s free gift he did what faith does.  Be believed… he received… he hoped… and he lived in faith every day of his life from that moment on. 
My dear Christians friends, it is just so for you and me.  The very same gift is ours.  We can’t earn it; we can work our way to deserve it.  It is a gift.  It is the most amazing thing in the whole world.  Our sin, both the things we do, and the things we think and feel, that blackness and evil in the deepest part of our heart is covered up by righteousness of God, through faith in Christ Jesus. We do what faith does… We believe… we receive… we hope… and we live in faith every day, from this very moment on.  For we hold that [a person] is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; October 20, 2019;

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5; Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost; October 20, 2019;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 3:14–4:5, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
This little text is a small part of a letter from St. Paul to young pastor Timothy. Paul has taught Timothy how to be a pastor. He is his "spiritual" father. Paul is near the end of his life facing execution in Rome. He's giving his last instructions, passing down his best pastoral advice, to his beloved friend and "spiritual" child Timothy. But this letter is far from advice only to a pastor. Paul's care for Timothy goes to his personal spiritual condition. That's what makes this letter applicable to all of you, not just your pastor.
What is so striking about this text is how Paul connects Timothy to God's Word. He reminds him how his grandmother and mother taught him the Scriptures. It's the Old Testament Saint Paul is talking about. The account of God working among his people from creation through the late Prophets (everything before Jesus was born). These are the foundation on which Timothy is to be a pastor to the people. It is not far-fetched to assume that Timothy knew well Paul's words about preaching:
For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:22–25, ESV)
Paul wrote these words to the congregation at Corinth nearly a decade before. It was certainly a part of Paul's regular preaching. Even based on the Old Testament, preaching in the church is to be Christ centered and cross focused. This preaching from the Scripture, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is the power of God. The Old Testament connected to Jesus Christ, with him at the center, is able (and not just able but powerful) to make you wise for salvation. The Holy Spirit working through the Word to bring faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. Paul says:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16–17, ESV)
Paul refers to God's work at creation of breathing life into human beings. That same breath is what makes the Word of God able to do exactly what Paul is saying. When Scripture is preached with Jesus Christ as the main point this is what makes it powerful to do what Paul says. It is the Holy Spirit living an active in the Word, the breath of God.
And Paul even tells Timothy how to preach. He says, "in season and out of season" and "reprove rebuke and exhort" and "with complete patience and teaching." The in season and out of season means whether people are listening are not. Timothy (and all pastors for that matter) have the obligation to preach. In the best of times and the worst of times. Whether people are listening to God's word whether they're denying it. To reprove, rebuke and exhort is another way of saying use Law and Gospel. Reprove and rebuke mean to convict people of their sin and then, having cut them to their heart, exhort means give them the sweet Good News of Jesus Christ crucified for the forgiveness of those very sins.
For the time is coming, so St. Paul says, when people will no longer listen to the Word. And in fact, will be hostile to it and those who bring it. But instead they will use the Word for their own ends. And anyone who speaks the word to reprove, rebuke and exhort will be ignored or worse. That's why St. Paul's advice includes for Timothy to endure suffering and do the work of an evangelist.
So, what about our itching ears? What do we want to hear God's word say? St. Paul says that we are incorporated into God's story. The story of God working in the world from creation through redemption. Timothy was incorporated into God's story by the faithful teaching of his mother and grandmother. They filled his ears with God's Word. They told him of the Messiah that would come and save him from his sin.
What itching ears would rather do is make God a part of our story. My life is busy, but I do have a place for God. As long as God sticks to Sunday morning. As long as God does what I want him to do. As long as he makes me healthy, wealthy and wise. As long as God gives me purpose and tells me what I'm here for. As long as my life is trouble-free. As long as I can live an extraordinary life, right now. As long as God doesn't embarrass me with demands that are way too old-fashioned. As long as I'm not inconvenienced by the church, I'll listen to everything that God has to say. As long as God doesn't interfere in my politics. And as long as God doesn't insist that the Bible is the only place where I can hear his voice. I'd much rather listen to my own heart. I'd rather let my feelings tell me what is right and wrong. I'd much rather listen to what everybody else is listening to. I would much rather listen to authors who claim direct connections to God. And I would rather listen to them even if they disagree with what God's word says.
Those who claim direct communication with God outside of his Word are lying. Those who tell you that thus and so is true because they feel it in their heart are deceiving you. When Jesus said, "my sheep hear my voice and they know me." He was speaking about his Word that comes from Holy Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture will you find him saying depend on your heart and do what it says. Instead he says
For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”” (Mark 7:21–23, ESV)
You put your faith and your salvation in jeopardy when you look inside yourself for the truth. What God does he does outside of you, for you. Jesus brings you forgiveness of sins through his life, death, and resurrection. It happened on a bloody cross, on a bloody hill outside a small Jewish town. The Good News is that despite the sin that lives inside of you, that pushes you to trust in everything but what God has given you to trust in, God saves you in Jesus Christ. And he brings this Good News to you from the outside. God makes you wise to salvation through the Word of God that travels through the air and strikes your ear holes. All Scripture is breathed out by God. You do not have to depend on slippery emotions and feelings to tell you what is right and wrong. And when people tell you that something is right because they feel it in their heart, or God spoke it to their heart, you do not believe it if it disagrees was Scripture.  <>
God has given you a pastor as a wonderful gift. His job, as Paul tells Timothy, is to help you see Jesus in the Word. His job is to help you see your sin and turn you to Jesus for forgiveness. That you can live your life as part of God's story. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Ruth.1.1-19a; 18th Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2019;

Ruth.1.1-19a; 18th Sunday after Pentecost; October 13, 2019;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ru 1:1-19, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Two men were traveling in a deep wood.  All at once they were confronted with a huge bear.  One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree.  The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body. 
It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be.  When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!” 
“He did,” answered the other.  “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.”  The story is one of Aesop’s fables.
There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued “Ruthlessly.”   Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize.  You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion” so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.”  But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.”  It’s actually what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us.  In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word.  She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old. 
The story is a particularly wonderful one.  It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born.  There was a man named Elimelech.  He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  When a famine struck the area, they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea).  Moab was a well-watered highland, so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there.  While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband.  We don’t know why he died there is no reason given.  Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women.  Their names were Orpah and Ruth.  Then tragedy struck again, and the two sons also died.  Again, we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter.  Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves.  Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home. 
At first the two women joined her.  But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again.  Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked.  Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth. 
“Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV)
These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty.  Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion and comfort.
Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like.  Like the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins.  Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship.  For some it is in marriage.  Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown.  Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.
These people are people you trust.  You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them.  You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together.  Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions.  There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship.  They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us. 
But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement.  Imagine two people standing in a rowboat.  If both leaned over the same side of the boat, they’d both end up in deep water.  Sometimes friends, too, must disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both.  None of our earthly relationships are trouble free.  When we expect that we usually end up alone. 
Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too.  You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have.  It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now.  And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way.  And our troubles persist.  What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle.  And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own.  It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.
But God is more than just our good friend.  His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding.  He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand.  Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble.  Because he is more than only our friend, He doesn’t always allow us to take the easy road.
It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi.  There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law.  In fact, quite the opposite was true.  When she said where you die, I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon.  Such was the fate of widowed women in those days.  Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman.  It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself.  Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation.  For Ruth it all paid off in the end.  She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children and lived a full new life.  But it was no accident.  Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior.  She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you. 
God’s love for you is no accident either.  In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson.  God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice.  We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words… “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.”  That’s what Jesus did.  God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate and slept where people ate slept.  And most importantly died as people die and was buried.  That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely.  That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being.  It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have.  Jesus death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me.  It is Jesus bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world.  It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone.  We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that.  But Jesus is.  He is because His love compels him to be. 
Ruth said to Naomi.  “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”  It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.”  Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship.  And he seals his promise in his own blood.  One way to look at it is this.  Ruth could have died for Naomi.  If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice.  But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help.  Jesus isn’t dead.  That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us.  He died but didn’t stay dead.  He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb.  That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for 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. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV) 
Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us.  But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives.  He does something no human begin could ever do.
It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way.  He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble.  But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort.  He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering.  And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi.  He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end.  And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb…  Jesus empty tomb… and yours.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.