Sunday, October 14, 2018

Isaiah 55:6-8; THE TWENTIETH SUNDAY AFTER TRINITY; October 14, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marias, MN;
NIV Isaiah 55:6 Seek the LORD while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the LORD.
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Seek the Lord… It’s a great idea. This is a great text. It’s hard to read this one and think that God is far away, isn’t it? It’s hard to read this text and think that God isn’t ready to be found! It falls right on the heels of another great one. Only a few verses before this one is that great invitation… “Come all who are thirsty, come to the waters; you who have no money, come buy and eat…” What an invitation. To come and get what you need without money. Com to God, he has what you need. “Seek the Lord…” That’s a pretty sweet invitation.
But, wait a second. Is it really that sweet? Do we really want to seek this Lord? … This God? After all, the last thing this text says is that his ways aren’t like ours. It says that he thinks differently than we do.
For example…  we like things to be easy. We like things to go smoothly. When the car breaks down, or the house isn’t quite clean enough we get pretty difficult to live with.  We are impatient, and crabby, when things get tough, we’re not happy. I don’t think “this God” thinks that way. The way God thinks was made pretty clear to me one day when I visited the nursing home.
“Linda,” is said quietly, really hoping not to disturb the fragile looking woman lying in front of me. “I’m awake,” she said without opening her eyes. It was and odd scene… I was standing beside the bed, which looked freshly made. Her tiny body was hardly even visible… it didn’t even seem to make a lump in the blankets… almost as if she wasn’t there at all. Her eyes were sunken and dark, her skin was pink, paper thin, and her hair practically non-existent. She lay there still and quiet, waiting for me to speak again. “How are you?” I asked timidly. “Tired.” She stated, as I knew she would. “I’m patient,” she added, “I only wish I knew how much longer I will have to wait. But, right now… I have to wait. His way is best.” These were the same words she spoke, every time we met. … the same words of hope and faith.
She opened her eyes, even though they almost seemed clear they were still full of life. No amount of wishing would wish that away. “What shall we pray for today?” I asked, already knowing what she would say. It would be the same as last time, and the time before that. Her strongest desire was that the waiting would be over, that she would finally be “with Jesus.” “I don’t know why I’m still here,” she would say, “I keep telling myself that his ways are better than mine. I just have to wait.”
I’m not sure I could wait as long as Linda did. Her husband died twenty years before. Her friends were gone. Before she was at the home, she sat alone in her house. Her children were far away… old, weak and tired. Hadn’t she lived long enough? Hadn’t she seen enough? What was God waiting for? It wasn’t like she wanted to be rich or healthy or beautiful or anything like that… She just wanted to be with here Lord. Yet that’s the way this God thinks. We want it easy. He allows us to develop patience through hardship. We want things to go smoothly. He gives us strength in trouble. We want it all to go well, right now. He wants us to go his way. Do we want to see a God like this?
Yet, here we are, gathered together, seeking the Lord. Why? Because we know he’ll have problems. We know will not always have it easy. So we seek his strength, his patience, his way, even when we don’t always like his way.
But that’s not the only reason we ‘seek the Lord.’ Remember the text, right there in the middle of it. It says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts. It says turn to God and he will have mercy. That isn’t the way we think either! We know how we feel when people sin against us. Think about when your children delay, or forget to visit you. Or when a friend stabs you in the back or people deliberately hurt you. You become angry. That’s what we expect from God, too. That he won’t forgive those who disobey him. That he will punish them somehow.
Thank God, he doesn’t think the way we do. Thank God, his ways aren’t our ways. Remember the text, it says, “He will abundantly pardon.” It isn’t that he just forgets about sin. He’s deadly serious about it. It’s just that his way isn’t ours. Thankfully when it comes to sin, he took care of it. That abundant pardon comes to us because of Jesus. He didn’t think like we do either. He went to the cross so we could be pardoned. He was treated as a wicked and unrighteous man deserves, even though he was perfect. He was punished instead of the ones who are wicked and unrighteous… hey! That was us! But that’s why we can turn to God, and like the text says, “He pardons us for Jesus sake, even though we didn’t deserve it. That’s what makes this invitation so great. That’s why we seek him.
You know what? That’s not all that it means to seek the Lord. It says to seek him while he may be found. What’s that all about? When can he be found? Where can he be found? Mary and the other women were asking those same questions when they went to Jesus tomb. Instead of finding him in it, it was empty. An angel told them, “why do you seek the living among the dead?” He was alive! Again God’s ways aren’t our ways. We expect dead people to stay dead. That’s what those women expected. We don’t visit the graves of our friend and family expecting to find them empty. God’s way… is that graves are empty. God’s way of raising people begins with raising Jesus. God’s way is a promise that our graves will be empty.
When can Jesus be found? … This Jesus who now lives? Where can Jesus be found? Right now! Right here! He has made it easy to find him.
Look He’s here in this house. We are gathered together in His name, brothers and sisters in Christ. Together we speak and sing about what He has done for us. We have been given his name in Baptism. Our lives together reflect the love He has given us. Think about all the things we do for one another from prayer to visits during illness.
Look, he’s here in his word. His word is where we find out about who he is, and what he has done. We hear about his life, death and resurrection. We hear about what he said, and learn about who he is. And we learn that he did it all for us, and we respond in faith.
Look he’s here in His Supper. Really, truly present… in, with and under the bread and wine, offering us forgiveness, life and salvation. Here he comes to us to touch us and strengthen our faith. Isn’t it just like our Lord, to know what we need and make it easy to find him? But, that’s just the way he thinks.
So… seek the Lord, while he may be found… right now, right here. Don’t worry that it seems strange, don’t worry that it isn’t what you expect. Remember He doesn’t think the way we do. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Mark.8.27-36; The 17th Sunday after Trinity; September 16, 2018;

Mark.8.27-36; The 17th Sunday after Pentecost; September 16, 2018;
And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him. And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” And he called to him the crowd with his disciples and said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? (Mark 8:28-36, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Jesus says those very important words, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  I know how we most often think about what Jesus means here.  We think he’s talking in general the bad stuff that happens in our lives, on a regular basis.  Like when a friend is troubled by a part of their life they can’t seem to resolve we try to give them comfort by saying, “Well, we all have our crosses to bear.”  Or we say it to try to be of help a Christian who is suffering from a long term illness.  Well, Jesus isn’t talking about the regular every day troubles that we go through here.  He’s not even talking about the things that happen to us because we’ve screwed up and have to suffer the consequences.  The cross he’s talking about here it the cross of being a theologian.  Now I know you don’t usually think of yourselves theologians, but you are, in fact everybody is a theologian.  All a theologian is, is a person who talks (Logos) or thinks about who god (Theos) is or isn’t, or what he is like.  It’s like the psalm says:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1, ESV)
Everyone is a theologian, and Jesus is here saying that there are two kinds of theologians in the world, those who carry a cross and those who don’t.  Our name sake, Martin Luther made a fine point on this.  He says people are either Theologians of the Cross (good theologians) or Theologians of Glory (bad theologians).  And as it turns out this difference helps us to understand very well the difference between Christianity and every other religion in the world.  And it also helps us to focus on what is really important in our lives.  And it all comes very clear in this text.
Peter begins by making the wonderful confession of faith.  “You are the Christ.”  Jesus asks about what people are saying about him.  The disciples have a list.  All of them are very complementary of Jesus, placing him in a very high category.  If Jesus had been a sinful man like you and me he would have gotten swelled up with pride, to be considered on par with the prophets that were mentioned.  But of course Jesus doesn’t sin.  In fact, we see him doing something that sounds very strange.  He says, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”  We might wonder why he doesn’t want the word spread, but we don’t get to think about it very long.  Right away he gathers his disciples together and begins to tell them about nothing less than the cross.  Do you see it there?  
And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. (Mark 8:31, ESV)
And now Peter who made the great and true confession of Jesus shows his true colors.  He shows he doesn’t really understand what Jesus is all about.  He shows he doesn’t know what it means to be a Theologian of the Cross.  He rebukes Jesus.  Now that’s a word we don’t use too much anymore.  But to rebuke means to put in place.  Think of it in terms of the way you and I think.  Someone says something that we don’t agree with and we use our tongue to take them down a peg.  Put them in their place.  That’s what Peter is thinking he’s doing.  “Jesus you don’t know what you are talking about!”  This is you and me.  Peter is doing only what people do naturally.  He’s being a theologian without a cross.  After all that’s what he doesn’t like about what Jesus is saying.  (Mark makes sure we know it’s not just a misunderstanding about what Jesus said. He adds that important detail, And he said this plainly”).  Peter is perfectly happy with Jesus being “the Christ” unless it means Jesus’ suffering and death.  “Not on my watch!” He says.
It’s hard to blame him either.  Things were just starting to look up.  Lot’s of people were gathering around the numbers looked good.  He was pretty well set as the top of the twelve.  Jesus new kingdom was going to have Peter as a pretty important person in it.  People were going to be looking up to him.  That’s exactly what a Theologian of Glory is.  It’s not God’s glory that’s in focus. It’s self glory.  That is how you and I think, too.  We put ourselves at the center of our god-thinking, our theology.  We think we can figure out stuff about God by how our life is going.  If stuff is going good, if we have all the money we need and even extra for stuff we don’t need, we think that God is blessing us because he’s happy with the way we are behaving.  What we are doing is bringing God down to our level.  We think he works the way everything else in life works.  You know; the American work ethic.  If you work hard you’ll have nice things.  The football hero gets the prom queen.  The good student gets good grades, goes to a good school, and gets a good job (that’s no where near Northrup), a beautiful wife, a SUV, 2.5 kids and a weekend house by the lake and one to live in every other day. All this, we think, shows God smiling down on us.  Or maybe this is a little closer to home.  If the church is working the way we want it to work, if there’s no conflict, if the budget is balanced, if there’s a bunch of new members looking to come in, if everyone feels good about what’s going on here, then God is blessing our congregation.  
All of this thinking, this Theology of Glory gets us thinking about faith in the wrong way.  We go to church to gain God’s favor.  As if sitting our butts in on the pew pad earns us brownie points.  If I pray hard enough and have enough faith, God will take away my cancer.  Conflict in the church means God isn’t happy with us.  If the church isn’t full like it used to be, just isn’t church anymore.  Well, none of that stuff has anything to do with the cross that Jesus says we have to bear, if we “would come after him.”  It’s thinking like Peter.  It’s a Theology of Glory.  It’s putting our thinking, our interests, our sinful hopes and dreams, and our sin stained attitudes at the center instead of Jesus and the cross that he bled and died on.  The definition of sin is man turning in on himself.
If that strikes a little too close to your heart… so did Jesus words to Peter.  “Get behind me Satan!” He said.  You are not setting your hearts on the things of God but on the things of man.  In Martin Luther’s words, “You are being a Theologian of Glory not at Theologian of the Cross.”
As I said before, all human religion is based on a Theology of Glory.  A very basic way to think if that is this:  “do good things for your god and he will do good things for you.”  It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, or any other religion you can name.  They are all the same.  It even affects Christian churches and preachers like Joel Osteen, Rick Warren.  Only true Christianity is different.  
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.” Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 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 1:18-25, ESV)
The foolishness of God is the cross of Jesus Christ; the Theology of the Cross.  What exactly is that theology, that god-talk, all about?  Well, instead of thinking that we can change God’s attitude about us by what we do, we, that is the Theologians of the Cross, see that there’s nothing we can do that changes God’s attitude toward us.  Everything we do is polluted by sin.  Yes, I did say everything.  Remember, “We are by nature sinful and unclean.”  Sinful trees produce sinful fruit.  It’s our sinful nature that only deserves God’s present and eternal punishment, and nothing else.  We can’t work our way into God’s good graces.  He doesn’t work that way.  And more importantly we can’t tell if God is happy with us by the way things look in our lives.  It’s like St. Paul says, God hides himself in weakness and foolishness.  One pastor I know says it like this:
God, Who is all-powerful, hides Himself in weakness. God, Who is all wise, hides Himself in foolishness. God, Who is living, hides Himself in death.  (Rev. Todd Wilken, the new Issues, Etc. Journal - Vol. 2, No. 1; The Theology of the Cross: Cross-Shaped Theology) 
Well, that’s just not the way our nature wants God to be.  We’d have had Jesus born in a mansion.  We’d have had him march on Hell’s Doors with his multitudes of armies.  We’d have had him crush Satan’s head in an obvious, glorious way.
Ah, but we are followers of Christ.  We do bear the cross.  Jesus told the disciples not to tell anyone because they hadn’t seen the cross yet.  Peter missed it even when Jesus spoke about it plainly.   We Lift High the Cross of Jesus Christ.  Our Savior is the one who showed us who God is by His death on the cross.   We don’t have to look at how the world is treating us to see what God thinks about us.  We haven’t and can’t please God by the things we do, but Jesus did please God once and for all.  That’s the foolishness that is so difficult for us to see and understand.  That God would send His only Son, in the flesh to suffer and die and rise again, for me… for you.  God isn’t pleased with us because of anything we do, but because of what Jesus did.  If we want to see God’s favor we look the cross.  If you want to know about your relationship to God, you don’t look at your “blessings,” instead you look at God’s promises through the cross of Jesus.
So what does the Theology of the Cross look like in your life?  Not like we’d expect.  And sometimes not even like we want.  Sometimes it looks like suffering.  We get sidetracked from our hopes and dreams by some unforeseen problem.  We have to depend on other people for help.  We have to trust that God knows what He’s doing and put our lives in His hands.  God’s Word points out our sin, and we know we can’t change our lives for the better.  At the foot of Jesus’ cross we drop the burden of it.  Life is hard and we wonder where God is when we need Him.  We cling to God’s promises made by an adoption of water on our head and His Name received upon our forehead and upon our heart.  We drag our sinful nature to the Lord’s Table and God pours forgiveness into us with Jesus’ body and blood.  People want us to tell them about our faith and we don’t talk about our faith, our experiences, or our testimony, instead we tell them about Jesus.  
“I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit…”
It’s really a matter of getting ourselves out of the picture and putting Christ Crucified at the center.  When I came here I had that passage from 1 Corinthians read at my installation.  That was no idle threat.  This is who we are going to be.  Christians who know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified.  That’s who we are as Theologians of the Cross.  Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Psalm 34:9-14; The 18th Sunday after Trinity; September 30, 2018;

Psalm 34:9-14; The 18th Sunday after Trinity; September 30, 2018;
Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;
Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the Lord. What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. (Psalm 34:9-14, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
There's phrase in this Psalm that comes up several times.  It's "fear the Lord."  Of course I'm sure that just like me you learned that this isn't really "fear" as in to be afraid but fear as in respect.  I remember being taught that when I was in Confirmation class.  "You don't have to be afraid of God because of Jesus."  I was told.  Now I don't want you to get me wrong, I had a wonderful pastor who confirmed me and taught me the truth of God's Word, but maybe you and I have kind of put the cart before the horse.  When I study this Psalm and how this word is used in other places it definitely has a part of it that means "fear" to be afraid.  Maybe we've just forgotten why we should be afraid of God.  I like to tell it to my confirmation students this way: This fear is like what you have for your father when your mother says, "Just wait till your father gets home!"  It's the fear of punishment.  You're guilty, you've been caught doing something wrong and punishment is coming.  And even though you may love your father, on that day you don't want him to come home, you can wait.  The normal happy return of Dad isn't going to be so happy this time.  When he comes home, he's going to be angry because things aren't the way they should be.  You've broken the rules and father is going to punish you because of it.  There is no way to describe that feeling except as fear.  Fear of punishment. (Movie Ex. A Christmas Story: Ralphy gets into a fight and lets out a stream of curse words.  His mother sends him to his room.  He waits in tears for his father to return.  The anticipation is of the pending wrath and punishment is terrible).  Maybe we've just forgotten how terrible God's punishment can be.  Maybe we've just forgotten how God's anger burns against sin. 
But that isn’t the way the world looks at God. Look at what is called religion outside of these doors.  God is some kind of eternal gray haired grandfather who overlooks our mistakes.  We sit on his lap and he whispers in our ears, "It's OK, I know you've done the best you could do.  Nobodies perfect.  I don't expect you to be perfect."  That is, in fact, the majority opinion out there.  And I think we all have a tendency to think that that's the way God is.  He takes our sins, lifts up the carpeting and sweeps it under.  "Oh, don't worry about that icky old sin.  You can't help yourself.  I'll just ignore it."  I did a search on the Internet and found such profound quotes as:
· God doesn't expect us to be perfect, as He knows we're sinners and we're always going to sin. But yes, He does expect us to strive for all those [good] things
· nobody is perfect..the only perfect person was Jesus , so God doesn't expect us to be perfect (because its impossible) but he does expect us to be good.
· Now having a friendship with Jesus does require us to do several things: Being honest with God about our faults and feelings. God doesn't expect us to be perfect, but God does expect us to be honest. Choosing to obey God in faith, whether we completely understand where God is leading or not, we are to obey and be faithful.
· Isn't it a comfort to know that God doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just loves us: weaknesses, warts, secrets, and all.
· In my opinion God doesn't expect us to be perfect. In my opinion God wants us to simply try and be a good person, which is really the whole point of just about every major religion in existence. Perfect? No. Good people? Yes.
· Honestly, I don't know, but it seems to me that truly confessing and professing Him must mean that the professing manifests itself in some tangible evidence. Are you really a new creation in Christ? Are you keeping His commandments? Do you love one another? I'm not trying to scare you; God doesn't expect us to be perfect yet, and I know He'll stand for a few spots and blemishes, sins of commission, and sins of omission. I'm only asking you to examine yourself and your profession of faith. If you understand the meaning of Jesus' death and resurrection, and if your life generally shows the fruits of the Spirit - even with a few wrinkles and dark places - than I think you're okay. If you don't feel you're okay, God is still ready to make things right. If you are okay, then get to work. I plan to."
Well these examples don't just match up with the God of the bible.  God does indeed require perfection!  He demands perfection in thought, word and deed.  First, all you have to do is look at the 10 commandments.  They cover every aspect of life.  The first three talk about our relationship to God, and four through ten have to do with our relationship with others.  And just in case you think that the commandments are suggestions and not God’s demand that humans be perfect, Jesus and St. Paul make it very clear when they speak:
· Thought: 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)
· Word: I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, (Matthew 12:36, ESV)
· Deed: For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5, ESV)
And how about Jesus words here in Matthew:
You therefore must be perfect, as you’re heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48, ESV)
Those are only a few of the verses that I could list to show that God does indeed expect human beings to be perfect.  He created us that way.  We should have stayed that way.  Now our imperfection deserves God's anger and wrath and punishment.
I think we do a lot to build up the perception that God just sweeps sin aside as if it didn't matter.  Lots of the time we live our lives as if God doesn't require us to keep His commandments.  We live and work and play and pretend that God doesn't hate my sin and your sin.  What we usually like to do is give the impression that what God really hates is the ills of society, you know, what goes on out there, the injustice of the world.  You know what I’m talking about.  I could begin listing the issues in the air these days, like abortion, gay marriage, divorce, etc.  Part of the problem is that we have associated our country, our society with God’s Promised Land.  And we expect our government to behave… well Christian.  As Christian citizens of this country we have an obligation to speak out about wrong and right and to do what we can about these kinds of issues, but the purpose of the church isn’t to change society.  God didn’t place this church (Life in Christ, Grand Marais,MN) here to solve the abortion problem or end gay marriage.  While God certainly hates these open sins in our society, the church is here for sinful people to receive God’s gift of eternal life through Word and Sacrament.  We get the church wrong when we get our focus wrong.  Well frankly, we like pointing the finger out there in general but we don't like it when it lands on us.  Just because Jesus died to take the punishment of our sin, doesn't mean we should just continue to do it.  St. Paul talks about this a lot.  In his letter to the Romans he ask them if Jesus death on the cross means they should intentionally sin so that God can give mercy.  "By no means!" he says, "How can we who died to sin still live in it?" (Romans 6:2, ESV)  And yet here we are continuing in our sin.   And we're not talking about the big stuff here either.  Sin is sin in God's eyes.  For example, you may speak about other members of the congregation in less than glowing terms.  You have muttered "you fool" or worse under your breath about that person you just don't like.  Lots of you have opened your mouths in the coffee shop and said what you know you shouldn't have said.  You know when it happens, but you also know that once you speak something you can't take it back.  And you've seen how much destruction it can do.  And you know how you have wanted what other people have, and turned green with envy wondering why they should have it so good when you have to work so hard for what you have.  And don't think I'm letting myself off the hook either.  Whatever sins you are guilty of I am guilty of, I am not just a Pastor, I'm a sinful person, too.  We are all the same we are all sinful people.  And if you think that's not a reason to "fear" God remember what He says. 
The soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:20, ESV)
For the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23, ESV)
Now, when you hear all this you understand what it means to "fear" God.  You understand why we should be afraid of God and His just punishment.  It's because God is good and just and holy.  Justice isn't sweeping sin away and ignoring the punishment that is due.  God is perfect and just that means that He must punish sin.  That's what we deserve.  The worst part is that we can't do anything about, we can't change ourselves, we can't stop sinning.  We deserve what God has for us when we sin... punishment, eternal punishment.
Still think God isn't serious about sin?  Still think he just shoves it under the rug or simply ignores it?  I've got the best example of all that God is serious about sin.  I've got the best example of all that we should be afraid of God's punishment.  Just look at what He did to Jesus.
He was turned over to a brutal bunch of men who whipped him to next to death.  He was forced to drag his own execution device up a high hill.  He hung naked up there on the cross with nails driven through his hands and feet.  And that's just the physical part of what he got.  He shouted out in terror and pain, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?"  God, the Father, let it all happen.  God wanted it to happen.  He ignored Jesus.  He turned his head away.  Not to ignore sin, but to allow the full punishment for it to be done completely and fully and eternally.  Jesus takes what sin deserves.  Jesus suffers God's just anger.  Jesus suffers God's just punishment.  He suffers eternal rejection from God.  That's exactly what those passages mean when they say "the wages of sin" and "the soul that sins."  That's exactly what we should be afraid of.  The punishment that we see given to Jesus is the punishment that we should have. 
But the Psalm says something else about "the fear of the Lord."  Did you notice it says fear the Lord, you his saints.  It's talking to those who have faith, the saints of God, the ones who have faith in Jesus perfect sacrifice for their sin.  The fear of the Lord in this Psalm is talking about more than just terror over sin, it's also talking about the faith that clings to the promise that that sin has been washed away with the blood of Jesus.  That's why it can say the those who fear have no lack.  Luther makes this point in the Small Catechism when he gives this meaning for the First Commandment: You shall have no other Gods.  What does this mean?  We should fear, love and trust in God above all things.  That's the big picture that the Psalm is talking about.  Lacking nothing starts where we started earlier this morning.  We confess our sins to God, knowing exactly what they deserve.  "We are not perfect...  We are sinful and unclean...  We have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what we have done and by what we have left undone..."  (LW, p. 158) Our godly fear comes in when we tell God what He says we deserve for that sin, "Your present and eternal punishment."  (LW, p. 158)  But God doesn't dole out to us what we deserve.  Instead He gives us forgiveness.  It is the best news we could ever hear. Jesus has endured the punishment of hell for us.  He's bled and died on the cross so that we don't have to face that terrible punishment for our sin.  He speaks the words right into your ears so that you are in no doubt about it.  Your Pastor speaks the very words of Jesus for you, "I forgive you your sins, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  In the Lord's Supper that God will gives to us week after week, we'll have that forgiveness put right into us through the very body and blood of Jesus, in, with, and under the bread and wine.  This God that forgives in this way can be fully loved.  This God that forgives for the sake of His sacrifice on the cross can be fully trusted.
Now for that "have no lack" part.  God's forgiveness opens the door to much much more.  It sets the stage for a new full and rich life, lacking nothing.  Of course we still have sin.  But God gives us a way to really take care of it, not by sweeping it under the rug so that it has to be dealt with later, but putting it on Jesus on the cross and really getting rid of it.  So when the Psalm says Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it,  we really do want to do just that.  Because it's what God wants of us. 
The God who has done everything for you so that you don't have to depend on yourself for salvation gives everything.  Those who fear, love and trust in God lack no good thing.  The Psalm says.  My fellow Christians, you have a God who gives you that much and more.  He has given Jesus perfect life for you.  What more could you possibly need that He wouldn't be happy to give?  In fact, in faith, that is fear, love and trust in God, means that even when He allows stuff into your life that doesn't seem so good, like illness, suffering and even death, you can be sure that it part of the good things that we have.  Jesus, your God, your Savior, has bled and died and rose again for you.  He promises only good things for you now.  You can be sure that no matter what you receive from him is exactly what you truly need. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
I have moved to Grand Marias, MN to be Pastor of Life in Christ Lutheran Church (LCMS).

I was installed September 23, 2018.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rom.3.19-28; Festival of the Reformation; October 25, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr;

{Previously Reformation, October 26, 2008}

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 moot 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 actually 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 really 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 well over 40 million helpless children through abortion. (Note these stats include all abortions for any reason, even those where the child has already died.) It’s a staggering 1 in 4 pregnancies that end in murder. And don’t forget that you and I actually pay for three out of every 10.

We’ve defined marriage to be anything we want it to be. Men and men; women and woman; Adult and child; why not a man; a girl and two dogs and a donkey. It’s not just that, we participate in the degrading of the institution. How about how this issue hits closer to home. 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. We ignore that God calls this a sin that affects the whole body of Christ.

God, the true God, speaks clearly about these issues. Killing humans 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 is able to look into 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.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Mark.4.35-41; The Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2015;


(Also: Third Sunday after Pentecost; June 21, 2009; Mark 4:35-41)

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, Iowa

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

We know storms. Today’s readings are all full of storms.

In Job, God speaks to Job out of a storm (some translations call it a whirlwind). Up until this point in the book, Job has wanted to confront God for the trouble he’s having. You remember about Job, how he lost everything, his wealth, his family, and his health. His friends sit around him and tell him that all of things that are happening to him are some kind of punishment for sin, if not outright sin, than some hidden sin Job isn’t aware of. But Job insists that there’s nothing that he’s done, he doesn’t deserve the storm of trouble that’s happening to him. He complains that if he could just plead his case before God, he’d get answers. Our reading is the beginning of God’s response to Job “out of the whirlwind.” Finally, in the middle of Job’s stormy life, God speaks to Job. Only it’s not the response Job is expecting. It’s not an answer we’d be happy with either. “Who are you to question me?” God says, “Where you around when I created everything? I’m the one who made everything. Were you there when I created everything?”

God puts Job in his place. It’s just not the kind of answer we think we want from God. There’s not compassion or comfort there. It’s just as if he drives another nail in Job’s coffin. He doesn’t answer Job’s questions about why he is suffering. God doesn’t justify his actions or pacify. And Job bows in humility and fear, his storms are not calmed by God (yet!).

In the Gospel lesson, which is actually the text for our meditation, the storm is a little different.

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41, ESV)

This storm is no less real than the storm faced by Job, and no less real than the storms that we face every spring, real storms, with real consequences. For the disciples they are afraid of drowning in the lake. If you’ve ever been out on a choppy lake during a storm you know the fear. As the waves grow and begin to splash over the sides of the boat you imagine the boat disappearing under the dark green foamy water. What will you do? Swim, how will you know which way to go, how will you keep afloat with the rain and wind. The fear is real. The disciples were afraid… for their lives. What a contrast to Jesus sleeping in the boat! Here he is sleeping soundly in a boat that’s filling with water and about to sink. And finally the disciples can’t bear the fear any more. And Jesus lying on the cushion sound asleep exasperated the whole experience. They were facing death and Jesus doesn’t seem to care! So they wake him up. “How could you sleep at a time like this? Don’t you care if we drown? There’s real danger here and you’re just sleeping your life away, and ours!” Jesus doesn’t answer their question but speaks directly to the water. “Quiet! Be still!” I imagine him looking also at the disciples as if to say “you too!” The wind and the waves react instantly. As soon as Jesus speaks the wind is silent and the waves calm. It’s a great contrast from complete storm to complete stillness, in an instant. Opposite of the great contrast that is seen in Jesus; great calm while sleeping to calming the storm. I wonder, do you see the connection to the reading from Job?

“Or who shut in the sea with doors when it burst out from the womb, when I made clouds its garment and thick darkness its swaddling band, and prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors, and said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed’? (Job 38:8-11, ESV)

Jesus mastery of nature is striking in the way He commands the waves and they obey. Just look at the disciples surprising response. They don’t lose their fear its focus only changes. And they ask the important question. “Who is this? Who is this that sleeps one moment and controls the storm in the next?” It is a question of faith and fear. “Why are you so afraid, do you still have no faith?” Jesus asks them. After all the disciples had witnessed, it appeared that they still didn’t know who he was. And yet right there in that boat they had all they needed to see. Jesus was sleeping, clearly a human being who needed sleep. He ate and slept, and drank and walked, and talked with them every day. He is as human as they were. And also he controlled the waves as easily as they threw their fishing net into the water. He was the one who set the boundary for the waves. Jesus is God; God speaking from the midst of the storm just like he did for Job.

You see, this text isn’t about how Jesus calms the storms of our life. As much as we want it to be true, God never promises that faith in him means that we won’t suffer from bad things in our lives. Look at Job. He suffered a great deal, but never found out why he suffered. He never knew the purpose. Job was a man of great faith. We often think about his patience but really it’s all about his faith… that is letting God be God and never knowing why he suffered through the storm. This text is about God being God; it’s about Jesus Christ being truly God, and Jesus Christ being truly man. And how God reconciled the real cause of storms in the world by sending Jesus his son, in human flesh. The storms of this world, tornados and social problems, earthquakes and broken families are our own fault. Sin is at the root. Sin causes pain and separation. Sin causes death. To be in sin, which all of us are, is to have a stormy relationship with God, instead of a perfect one. And that stormy relationship means that we don’t deserve anything from God, especially his protection, and presence in the storms we create. But he came anyway, in Jesus Christ. Jesus calms the storm between God and man, by taking the punishment instead of us. He brings God to us by suffering and dying and rising again.

That is what our faith is all about. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, ESV) That’s the content of our faith. That’s the important thing about what we believe. Christianity is specifically about who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for us. The fact that he came to earth God and Man to live a perfect life for you and me, suffer and die on the cross for human sin. To reconcile us to God by paying the punishment of sin, suffering hell on the cross for us. But when the storms of life gather around us we forget who Jesus is. Well maybe we don’t actually forget but we act as if it doesn’t matter who he is. And that’s what also places us there in the boat with the disciples, being afraid of the storm. Our storm may not be the spinning cloud that passes through town, but what about the turmoil in our family that seems to be tearing it apart? No matter how hard you try you can’t seem to put it back together. You’re afraid you’ll never again have a whole family. What about the disease that won’t let go of you, and threatens to take away everything you have. Or the heart problem, or stroke, or illness that strikes without warning. Or the storm of being so busy that you can’t stop even to breath for fear of missing something important. You see all those storms leave us afraid and we shout out, “God don’t you care what’s happening to me, I’m afraid, and you don’t seem to be doing anything!” Just like the disciples we’ve forgotten who God really is. We forget that he’s in the midst of the storm. We forget about Jesus and what he promises us.

But Jesus knows about our storms because he isn’t a God who stands back and hurls lightning bolts at us from heaven. He is a God who became a man and lived among us. Right here in the midst of our storms, in the midst of our suffering, in the midst of our pain. Jesus Christ knows what it means to suffer through them. He suffered, just like we do and more. He knows the storm of separation caused by death. He wept at the grave of Lazarus. He knows the storm caused by illness. He walked among the crowds that pressed in on him for healing. He had compassion on them, but he didn’t heal them all. No matter what’s troubling you Jesus Christ knows your storm. He can and does take care of us. He is God. He is the very same God who created everything. He is the God who set the boundaries for the sea and formed the mountains with his very words. He is in control of everything, from the smallest flapping of the butterfly’s wing, to the formation of clouds and the waves that lap against the seashore. That’s Jesus standing in the boat with the disciples calming the storm around them, speaking in the midst of the whirlwind.

But he doesn’t always calm the storm. Job had to suffer for a very long time. You and I have storms that never seem to end. What is Jesus doing about that? Well, he hasn’t left us alone to deal with the storms of life, even if he doesn’t just make them go away. Jesus Christ the God-Man who died, and rose again for us has provided us with special gifts to help us weather the storm. These are things that he gives us freely and abundantly. And he gives them to you right here.

Right here in this place he speaks his word to you. Storm or calm, week after week, month after month, year after year, His very words of comfort and strength are given to you. What does he say to you? He gives you promises. Promises that he will always be with you, you are not alone in the storm. You don’t have to leave your bed and crawl in with mom and dad, when the thunder rolls; Jesus is with you wherever you are. The disciples were in the boat with Jesus; the storm was nothing to worry about. Over and over again Jesus makes that promise to you. It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” (Deuteronomy 31:8, ESV)

God doesn’t promise no storms or burdens but he promises that he’ll help you bear it. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV)

These are the kind of promises of God makes to you, given in his word. And don’t forget that those promises are true for you because he has claimed you to be his own. Look at the font here. Here God reaches out and grabs you in your storm. Here he makes you his child. 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)

That promise to be with us is no more sure and certain for us than it is here at this altar. Here he comes to us in his very body and blood. In the midst of our storm we can take hold of Jesus Christ himself, as we hold out our hand and make for him “the very throne of God!” We handle him, touch him and see him… and he gives us strength in this food to stand in the storm, but not strength to stand on our own, strength to stand because he gives is promise and keeps his promises.

Will the storms all go away? Will Jesus always stand up and “rebuke” the demons that threaten us? Nope. Life is still full of stormy days. Look what that storm did for the disciples. They got a lesson about turning to Jesus. They needed to be reminded who he is. That’s what the storms do for us too. They remind us that we can’t go it alone. They remind us that God is in control of everything. They remind us that we need to depend on him more and more every day. Amen.

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

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Psalm 139: 1-12; Pentecost, May 31, 2009; Pentecost, May 25, 2015;


Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church, Creston & Mount Ayr, IA

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

I’m sure many of you have heard this story: A farmer went into his banker and said to him that he had good news and bad news. “First the bad. I can’t make the mortgage payment, and I can’t pay back my operating loan this year. We couldn’t get the crop planted because of the weather, so I won’t be making any payments on my equipment either. In fact, I’m going to pack it all in and just turn the farm over to you.” After a prolonged silence the banker asked, “What’s the good news?” The farmer smiled, “I’m still going to bank with you.”

Good News and Bad News. We get used to hearing things that are good news and bad news. Of course in real life we don’t want to hear the bad news, only the good. And here we are pew sitting Easter is still fresh on our minds. Isn’t this the time when we expect to hear about “Good News?” The purple of advent is gone, the fasting, the sorry feelings for what Jesus had to go through on our behalf. Let’s hear some more Good News about Jesus being alive! OK!

Well, that’s not just Good News that Christ has risen, that’s Best of the Best News. Jesus Christ has conquered sin, death and hell. Every time we shout it we proclaim the victory won by Jesus. The victory that is our by faith in what He has done. It’s Good News…

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:1-12, ESV)

My question to you today is: Is that psalm Good News or Bad News?

O Lord, you have searched me and known me! (Psalm 139:1, ESV)

Well, of course it’s not always good to have God know everything about everything about me. It almost feels like an invasion of privacy. Think about it, God searching me and knowing me! If God’s knows me, I can’t hide in the crowd. I can’t blend in to the wallflowers. He knows who I am and there’s no getting away. That’s Bad News, isn’t it? Or is it Good News? He knows me. He knows who I am, I’m not just a number in the crowd. He knows me for me. Come to think about it that means when Jesus hung on the cross, when He died for the sins of the world, he because he was God, he knew me there too! When He rose from the dead as the first fruits of those who believe, he knew me then too! Because he searches me and knows me, he knows how much I needed a Savior, and when he bled and died on the cross he did it for me. And he rose again from death, and when I shout “He is Risen!” I’m shouting it for me because God knows me!

You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. (Psalm 139:2, ESV)

God knows when I sit and when I rise, that pretty much covers all my waking hours: At work, at play, at home, at church, as a matter of fact this sounds a lot like church, sitting and rising. Right here and now God knows my thoughts from afar. I don’t think that’s Good News at all. He looks inside here, inside my head, and knows what I’m thinking. Well, at times it’s rather empty, but at times it’s full of awful things. When I sit by people that I don’t like, God knows what I’m thinking… God knows what I’m thinking; he knows my thoughts from afar. He doesn’t have to be here and see the disgust on my face when I sit and wish that certain people would just go away. I’d rather not have God know about that… But God knows my thoughts… He knows my struggle every day to do what’s right. I know I should be welcoming to everyone. I know that Jesus promise of forgiveness is for everyone. He knows that I know what I should do and yet I don’t do it. He knows my thoughts, how much help I need, so when He promises to help it’s not an empty offer. He is the one who can help me make a change in my attitude, and change my thoughts, because he knows what they are. That is Good News.

You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. (Psalm 139:3, ESV)

God watches over my going out and my lying down: in my house, outside of my house; in the garage, taking a nap on the couch, or late nights in front of the glow of the tube, God is familiar with all my ways. He’s familiar… does familiarity breeds contempt? My ways are not God’s ways. It’s not Good News that God is familiar with what I do every day. Mostly because I’m not sure he’d be happy with some of the things I do. I don’t want my family to know all my ways. I have private moments that I thought were just mine, but God says he’s familiar… with my personal failures, my personal struggles with recurring sins, my personal demons, all the things that I hide from everyone. He knows them all… that’s Bad News, and yet, it’s Good News, isn’t it. If he’s familiar with it, he knows how much those things hurt me. If he’s familiar he knows how unhappy I am when I do them. The bible says that Jesus was tempted every way just as we are, that means he knows how difficult the struggle is. If he knows about them there’s no reason to not talk to him about them. No reason not to confess them to him. He’s familiar, he’s not going to be surprised at my confession, in fact when I say I have sinned in thought word and deed, he’s familiar with what I’m talking about. “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” That’s his promise. He is faithful. He is familiar. He is forgiving. He forgives me.

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4, ESV)

There are times when I wish I knew what was on my tongue before I spoke. More often than not, my words cut. More times than I care to admit my tongue is my most versatile weapon, and it works with more precision than any satellite-guided bomb. Worst of all my tongue is connected to my heart. When I say the things I wish I didn’t say, I do mean them, even if I don’t mean them later. My tongue reveals the blackness that I know is in my heart. And God knows it’s there, too. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. And what about those words that I don’t say? Those hurtful, spiteful words that I somehow manage to keep from rolling off my tongue. If he knows the ones I say before I say them then he knows the ones that I bite off in my mouth. Even though it was good not to say them, it’s bad that I even thought them. And God knows them all. He knows them because he doesn’t judge the words of my mouth. God judges by the heart, and mine is full of sin. He knows the words because he knows the heart. Out of the heart comes all sort of evil, Jesus says. St. Paul says to let the words of Christ dwell richly in your heart. If his words are there then His words will come off your tongue. Just look at today as an example: God knew I’d be singing the words of the hymn we just sang even before we sang them, even before I pick it for us to sing!

So, the tongue that hurts is also the tongue that repeats Good News. The tongue that cuts can also be the tongue that speaks of the forgiveness won for corrupt hearts. Jesus Christ knows, He knows what I’m going to say. He can and will cause his words to come out of me, instead of my own.

You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it. Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me. If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,” even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you. (Psalm 139:5-12, ESV)

The psalm speaks of God’s pursuit. Everywhere I go He is there. He’s like a bloodhound on the trail. I can’t climb a tree, or into a hole. He knows me. I can’t hide from Him. He knows my thoughts, the evil that fills my brain. He knows the things I do, weather in secret or in public. The things I do that are selfish, or hateful, or for spite. He knows my heart and the evil words I will speak. For all of that He should pursue me for punishment. The wages of sin is death, He says. I deserve death, for my thoughts words and deed. And I can hide none of them from God. The “Bad News” is that I am guilty and God knows it.

But the Good News is: That instead of pursuing me, God pursues someone else. It’s funny, in a way, because even though I am evil and deserve punishment, God punishes him even though He is Good. Jesus Christ fell under the relentless pursuit of God punishment. He suffered and died for my sins. AS Jesus bled and died on the cross, God heaped on him the punishment for my hidden thoughts, my evil actions, and my sinful heart. And when Jesus said, “It is finished!” the punishment for them all went away with His death. He rose again for me, to give life to me instead of the death I deserved. That is Great, Good News.

The funny thing is that if we think again of the psalm we don’t have to worry about the “Bad News” any more. We can think of the Good News of the Psalm instead. He searches me and knows me he knows all my needs and takes care of me. No intrusion on my privacy only the searching of a loving caring God. He only wants the best for me. Because of Jesus he knows my sitting and my rising and my thoughts from afar. He knows me so well that nothing can separate me from his love. I am always on his mind. And He knows and hears me even before I speak. Before I even know my needs myself, before I can even speak them God knows about them and has already answered my prayers.

So the Psalm that would be Bad News / Good News is really not Bad News at all. It’s Good News about my relationship with God, because of Jesus Christ. Amen.

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